By HARUKA NUGA and MARI YAMAGUCHI – Associated Press
GOTEMBA, Japan (AP) — Japanese and U.S. Marines had their first airborne landing and combat training together Tuesday near Mount Fuji as the two allies step up military cooperation amid growing maritime activity from China and the Russia in the regional seas.
Japan has been increasing its defense budget and capabilities for about a decade and is currently revising its key national security strategy in the face 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 the southern Japanese island of Okinawa jointly practiced landing and combat operations in an enemy invasion scenario from a remote Japanese island, using tilt-rotor Ospreys, amphibious armored vehicles and artillery such as M777.
The drill comes at a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has heightened concerns about what could happen in East Asia, where China’s growing assertiveness has heightened tensions around Taiwan.
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As Japan has shifted its security focus to the southwest, it is also faced with increasing Russian naval activity and increased cooperation with China.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the Japanese Navy spotted a fleet of six Russian warships passing the Soya Strait between Hokkaido and Sakhalin on Monday as part of Russia’s major naval exercises, days after that another Russian fleet crossed the Tsugaru Strait between Aomori, at the northern tip of Japan. the main island and Hokkaido.
He said Russia also launched a surface-to-air missile strike last week on the Russian-held Kuril Islands, which Japan also claims. The dispute over the islands Moscow took at the end of World War II prevented Japan and Russia from signing a peace treaty.
“The Russian military has intensified anomalous naval drills in areas such as Okhotsk in sync with their invasion of Ukraine,” Matsuno said. “We have told Russia that we are watching its increased military activity with grave concern.”
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has repeatedly pledged to fundamentally boost Japan’s defense power, including considering possessing a controversial preemptive strike capability. Japan has purchased 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 advancing interoperability among allies to strengthen their deterrence and response capability, defense officials said.
“We are committed to ensuring peace and stability in the region through joint Japanese-American responses. Any potential adversary will see our actual capability, not just words,” said Colonel Masashi Hiraki, commander of Japan’s First Rapid Deployment Amphibious Regiment. “Japan, with the US Marines, has the will and the ability to defend the region, and I expect that will provide deterrence.”
“We are operating in all areas to achieve the effects necessary to succeed on today’s battlefield” seamlessly between the two allies, said Colonel Michael Nakonieczny, commander of the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit based in Okinawa.
The Japanese amphibious unit, part of Japan’s first army and navies since World War II, was launched in 2018 to bolster the country’s defense in the East China Sea. Japan is particularly concerned about Chinese military activities in the waters around the Japanese-held Senkaku Islands, which Beijing claims and also calls Diaoyu.
Japan has greatly expanded its joint exercises with the United States as well as with other partners, including Australia, India, France, Britain and Germany, which also share their concern over pressure from China for its territorial claims in the region, which has some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. .
Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.
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