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News | June 10, 2021

Conference participants find engineering solutions to steer future construction in Japan

By Honey Nixon U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Japan District

Japan Engineer District wrapped up the second Bilateral Senior Engineer Conference, June 4, after collaborating for three days with their multinational engineer partners and commanders from various installations throughout the Pacific.

Representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Japan’s Ministry of Defense, the U.S. Embassy, and U.S. Forces Japan, leveraged their time together to focus on engineer planning, future operational planning, and construction standards - all of which impact the Alliance construction picture in Japan. 

“I am excited to see where this Japan Alliance program goes as we seek to empower local, risk-based decisions and as we implement other innovative tools and ideas which help mitigate the challenges we and our contractor base face,” said Dr. Christine Altendorf, Director of Military Programs, USACE and keynote speaker for the BSEC. 

The conference’s overarching theme of “Implementing the Alliance Approach to Engineering and Facilities Construction in Japan” presented topics such as Facilities Engineering & Construction for the Alliance, Construction Market Conditions in Japan, Host Nation Funded Construction Management, and Base Access to BSEC participants – some of whom joined remotely due to COVID-19 protection measures. 

“Last year this conference wasn’t possible,” said Damon Lilly, Director of Programs, Pacific Ocean Division, USACE. “But fortunately engineers are consummate problem solvers and we wouldn’t accept another year going by without providing this opportunity…[so] we stand here now in 2021- ready to collaborate, problem-solve and look to the future of engineering and construction in Japan.”  

This drive to problem solve was also central to the conference with bilateral partners working side-by-side to brainstorm compelling solutions during their break-out sessions in response to challenging topics presented by briefers both onsite and virtually. 

“After setting the foundation on day one, we broke into three different break-out sessions to discuss three bi-lateral strategic topics here in Japan,” explained Col. Thomas J. Verell, Jr., USACE, JED’s commander. “Each of the break-out sessions identified challenges within their strategic topic; framed and defined each challenge, developed potential recommendations; identified recommendation champions and developed board timeframes.”

For these collaborations to be generative, participants must be as transparent as possible when tackling the problems at hand.

“For these three days, frank and candid discussions and opinion exchange have been made over various technical issues which our both countries have in common, which I find greatly beneficial,” said Sugiyama Masato, director general for Facilities and Installations, Minister’s Secretariat, Japan Ministry of Defense. 

“I virtually participated in this year’s BSEC for two days, the first day and today, due to my work schedule,” he added. “I am really pleased to hear from my staff that the participants of working group sessions were proactive in sharing their thoughts with each other.”

The need for a broader application of the Alliance approach continues to grow due to structural changes to the Japanese construction market, and growing U.S., Host Nation, and Japan Self Defense Force construction programs.

“I believe that the initiatives such as the development of BCP (Basic Criteria Package) guidelines and the adoption of acceptable alternative Japanese standards and specifications will reduce the US facilities construction cost, enable the construction programs to be implemented more efficiently by engineer partners and contribute to driving the DPRI (Defense Policy Review Initiative) programs forward,” Masato added.

The conference also provided stakeholders a common understanding of policies and challenges impacting programming and execution of the host nation’s infrastructure with the goal of achieving greater Alliance engineer integration and interoperability.

“In a truly bilateral and joint setting, the attendees of the Bilateral Senior Engineer Conference have gained a much better understanding of the region, the alliance and the challenges all construction programs face today in Japan,” emphasized Verell.

“The capacity constraints, design criteria, and dual-nation oversight make facilities and infrastructure construction in Japan truly unique,” explained Lilly. “This means the challenges we all face require comprehensive cooperation to create meaningful improvements to the U.S.-Japan construction process. The BSEC is the conduit that makes this strategic coordination possible.”

Japan Engineer District is headquartered at Camp Zama and operates field offices throughout Japan. The District executes the Japan Host Nation Funded Construction and U.S. MILCON programs as the Department of Defense design and construction agent. The District supports U.S. Forces and other agencies with quality, professional and comprehensive planning, engineering, construction, environmental and other value-added services.