Keen Sword: US and Japan stage largest wargames in Pacific amid tensions with China (VIDEO)
Around 47,000 troops from the Japan Self-Defense Force have been joined by more than 10,000 US servicemen for the Keen Sword 19 military exercise – the biggest drill of its kind since the biennial joint maneuvers were launched in 1986. The US forces participating in the drill include the bulk of the Seventh Fleet, as well as the Submarine Group 7 – both of which are based in Japan's Yokosuka. Tokyo has deployed roughly a fifth of its military. Two Canadian warships are also taking part in the exercise.
The record-breaking drill is set to demonstrate "the strength and durability of the US-Japan alliance" and the nations' "shared pursuit of a free and open Indo-Pacific region," Lieutenant General Jerry Martinez, who leads the US troops stationed in Japan, told reporters as the wargames kicked off earlier this week.
The navies are tasked with practicing amphibious assaults and ballistic missile defense, as well as aerial combat, all close to Chinese waters. The US nine-ship strike group, led by the nuclear-powered Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS 'Ronald Reagan,' is also engaged in training for anti-submarine warfare.
Military officials noted that Keen Sword showcases the allied fleets' ability to jointly counter crises emerging in the strategically important Pacific region. To improve interoperability, the allied fleets practiced sharing logistic data and delivered supplies to each other's ships.
Commander of the Japanese contingent, Rear Admiral Hiroshi Egawa, noted that the US-Japanese alliance is "essential for stability in this region and the wider Indo Pacific."
Japan, led by the right-wing Liberal Democratic Party, has been ramping up its armed forces in accordance to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's pledge to enshrine a more assertive role of the military in the nation's largely pacifist post-WWII constitution. In March, Japan created its first elite marine assault unit, the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade. In September, Tokyo sent its newest and largest warship – helicopter carrier JS 'Kaga' – on a two-month tour in order to promote a "free and open Indo-Pacific" and to foster stronger military ties with Pacific states like the Philippines.
Beijing, meanwhile, had been warning the US and Japan against violating its sovereignty by letting their ships and warplanes come near its territorial waters. Chinese officials had accused the US of abusing the 'freedom of navigation' principle, and are saying that its naval maneuvers contribute to the rise of tensions in the already contentious region. In September, a Chinese warship almost suffered a collision with Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS 'Decatour' as it was trying to fend off the US vessel Beijing said came too close to its waters in the South China Sea.
In response to Washington's activity in the region, China announced that it will also step up its naval capabilities. The nation must "concentrate preparations for fighting a war" and increase the amount and scope of military exercises, President Xi Jinping declared last week.
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