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Japan-US marine combat drills held amid fears over Chinese and Russian activity

Training was held near Mount Fuji as the allies strengthen military cooperation.

Members of the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force.
Members of the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force.
Image: PA

JAPANESE AND US marines have undergone their first airborne landing and combat training together near Mount Fuji as the two allies strengthen military cooperation amid growing maritime activity by China and Russia in the regional seas.

Japan has been expanding its defence budget and capability for about a decade and is now revising its key national security strategy in the face of threats from China, North Korea and now Russia.

Today, 400 troops from Japan’s amphibious rapid deployment brigade and 600 US marines based on Japan’s southern island of Okinawa jointly practiced landing and combat operations in a scenario of an enemy invasion of a remote Japanese island, using tilt-rotor Ospreys, amphibious armoured vehicles and artillery material such as M777 howitzers.

The exercise comes at a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has intensified worries about what could happen in East Asia, where China’s growing assertiveness has escalated tension around Taiwan.

While Japan has shifted its security focus to the south-west, it also faces Russia’s growing naval activity and its increased cooperation with China.

2.65859621 The Assault Amphibious Vehicle Personnel 7 of the Japanese Ground Self-Defence Forces.

Chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the Japanese navy spotted a fleet of six Russian warships on Monday passing the Soya Strait between Hokkaido and Sakhalin as part of Russia’s major naval exercises, days after another Russian fleet crossed the Tsugaru Strait between Aomori on the northern tip of Japan’s main island and Hokkaido.

He said Russia also conducted a land-to-air missile firing last week on the Russian-held Kuril islands, which Japan also claims. The dispute over the islands Moscow took at the end of the Second World War has prevented Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty.

“Russia’s military has been escalating abnormal naval drills in areas including the Okhotsk in sync with their invasion of Ukraine,” Matsuno said.

“We told Russia we are watching its intensifying military activity with grave concern.”

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has repeatedly pledged to fundamentally strengthen Japan’s defences, including a possible pre-emptive strike capability.

2.65859378 A V-22 Osprey. Source: PA

Japan has purchased American fighter jets, missile defence systems and other arsenals to increase interoperability as the two sides increasingly work together.

Today’s drill was part of a three-week joint exercise aimed at advancing such cooperation between the allies to strengthen their deterrence and response capability, defence officials said.

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“We are committed to securing the peace and stability in the region through Japan-US joint responses. Any potential adversary will see this as our actual capability, not just words,” said Col Masashi Hiraki, commander of Japan’s First Amphibious Rapid Deployment Regiment.

“Japan, together with the US marines, have the will and ability to defend the region, and I expect this to provide deterrence.”

Col Michael Nakonieczny, commanding officer of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit based in Okinawa, said: “We are operating across all domains to achieve the effects that are required to be successful on today’s battlefield.”

The Japanese amphibious unit, part of the army and Japan’s first marines since the Second World War, was launched in 2018 to bolster the country’s defences in the East China Sea.

Japan is particularly concerned about Chinese military activity there in waters surrounding the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which Beijing also claims and calls Diaoyu.

Japan has significantly expanded its joint drills with the United States as well as other partners including Australia, India, France, Britain and Germany that also share concern about China’s push for its territorial claims in the region, which has some of the world’s busiest sea lanes.

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