US and Japan to Hold Amphibious Assault Drills in Northwestern Pacific

A joint U.S.-Japan military exercise will be held off Guam and Tinian in early November.

US and Japan to Hold Amphibious Assault Drills in Northwestern Pacific

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ship JS Hyuga sits along the pier in Guam prior to planned training during Keen Sword 2017.

Credit: US Navy

The U.S. Navy and Marine Corps will join forces with the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) and conduct a set of military drills near and on the U.S.-owned islands of Guam and Tinian in the northwestern Pacific Ocean this week and next, according to a U.S. Seventh Fleet press statement.

The combat drill, dubbed Keen Sword, is the 17th run of an annually held military exercise and will be held from November 1-11. The primary objective of the exercise is to increase operational readiness and interoperability of the JSDF with U.S. forces, according to the U.S. Navy. Around 11,000 U.S. servicemen and 25,000 JSDF personnel will participate in the joint drill—the first assuming Japan’s new security laws. (Under the new laws, Japan is now allowed to defend allies, even when the country is not under attack itself.)

For the first time in in the history of Keen Sword, the drills will involve amphibious assault operations. “Accompanying surface ships will conduct live-fire exercises and other maritime missions to simulate protecting the amphibious task force and providing supporting fires to ground forces ashore,” the U.S. Navy reports. “The culminating amphibious landing will include an insertion of ground forces via combat rubber raid craft and a heli-borne assault.”

Japan’s military is in the process of developing more amphibious warfare capabilities and is investing in creating a lighter and more agile fighting force easy to deploy. As I noted in an article earlier in the year (See: “Japan’s Elite Amphibious Assault Force Trains With US Marines”), the JSDF will stand up its first Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade by the spring 2017:

The initial size of the brigade will be around 2,000 troops, but this is slated to increase to 3,000 once the force becomes fully operational sometime in 2018. The new brigade’s principal mission will be to defend the 6,000 islands and islets of the Ryukyu Islands chain, which stretches southwest from Kyushu to Taiwan.

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The Japanese command center for controlling JSDF personnel participating in the amphibious assault drills will be the Hyuga-class helicopter carrier JS Hyuga, the lead ship of her class and commissioned in 2009.

Next to practicing the recapture of an island, Japan and U.S. forces will conduct a search and rescue operation off the island of Ukibaru off Okinawa Prefecture and practice a ballistic missile defense scenario.

“We’re honored to work together with our Japanese Self-Defense Force counterparts and learn from each other,” said Rear Admiral Marc H. Dalton, the  commander of Amphibious Force Seventh Fleet. “By improving our bilateral amphibious capability, we increase interoperability and readiness as part of our deep and long-standing military cooperation in support of the U.S.-Japan defense alliance.”