GOTEMBA, Japan – Japanese and U.S. Marines had their first airborne landing and combat training together on Tuesday near Mount Fuji as the two allies strengthen military cooperation amid growing maritime activity from China and Russia in the regional seas.
Japan has been expanding its defense budget and capabilities for about a decade and is now revising its key national security strategy in the light of threats from China, North Korea and now Russia.
On Tuesday, 400 troops from Japan’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade and 600 U.S. Marines based on Japan’s southern island of Okinawa jointly practiced landing and combat operations in a scenario involving a hostile invasion of a remote Japanese island using tilt-rotor Ospreys, amphibious armored vehicles and artillery such as the M777.
The exercise comes at a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has heightened concerns about what might happen in East Asia, where China’s growing self-assertion has escalated tensions around Taiwan.
While Japan has shifted its security focus to the southwest, it is also facing Russia’s growing naval activity and its increased cooperation with China.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the Japanese navy discovered a fleet of six Russian warships on Monday that passed the Soybean Strait between Hokkaido and Sakhalin as part of Russia’s major naval exercises, a few days after another Russian navy crossed the Tsugaru Strait between Aomori at the northern tip of Japan’s main island and Hokkaido.
He said Russia also conducted a land-to-air missile launch last week on the Russian-held Kuril Islands, which Japan also claims. The dispute over the islands that Moscow took at the end of World War II has prevented Japan and Russia from signing a peace agreement.
“Russia’s military has escalated abnormal naval exercises in areas, including Okhotsk, in line with their invasion of Ukraine,” Matsuno said. “We told Russia that we see its intensifying military activity with serious concern.”
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has repeatedly promised to fundamentally strengthen Japan’s defense forces, including considering possessing a controversial preventive attack capability. Japan has bought US fighter jets, missile defense systems and other arsenals to increase interoperability as the two sides increasingly work together.
Tuesday’s exercise was part of a three-week joint exercise aimed at promoting interoperability between the Allies to strengthen their deterrence and response capabilities, defense officers said.
“We are committed to ensuring peace and stability in the region through Japan-US joint reactions. Any potential adversary will see this as our actual ability, not just words,” said Colonel Masashi Hiraki, commander of Japan’s first amphibious rapid-fire regiment. along with the U.S. Marines the will and ability to defend the region, and I expect this will be a deterrent. “
“We operate across all domains to achieve the effects required to succeed on today’s battlefield” seamlessly between the two allies, “said Colonel Michael Nakonieczny, commander of the 31st Okinawa-based naval expeditionary unit.
The Japanese amphibious unit, part of the army and Japan’s first marines since World War II, was launched in 2018 to strengthen the country’s defense in the East China Sea. Japan is particularly concerned about Chinese military activity there in the waters around the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which Beijing also claims and calls Diaoyu.
Japan has significantly expanded its joint exercises with the United States as well as other partners, including Australia, India, France, the United Kingdom and Germany, who also share concerns over China’s push for its territorial claims in the region, which has some of the world’s busiest sea routes.
Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.