Japan’s Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. and French militaries will conduct their first joint amphibious exercise that could lead to operations to defend and recapture remote islands, including the Senkaku Islands (Ishigaki City, Okinawa Prefecture), next May, the Sankei learned on Dec. 5. Japan, the U.S. and France will employ their vessels and ground forces for landing drills on an uninhabited island located southwest of Japan’s main islands. The participation of the French military will send a message to Beijing in response to its aggressive activities in the South and East China Seas and is aimed at strengthening and expanding the encirclement of China.
The French Navy is planning to send the Jeanne d’Arc training fleet, which consists of a helicopter amphibious ship and a frigate vessel boarding cadets, to a Japanese port for the third time next May. The Jeanne d’Arc called at Sasebo Port in 2015 and 2017.
During its visit to Sasebo in May 2015, France conducted its first joint military exercise with Japan under the Japan-U.S.-France framework. The vessels of the Maritime Self-Defense Force and the U.S. and French naval forces reciprocally conducted aircraft landing drills in waters west of Kyushu. The joint exercise held in May 2017 was joined by the Ground Self-Defense Force and the U.K. military. In the waters and skies surrounding Japan, drills were conducted involving the dispatch and retrieval of reconnaissance boats.
While the joint exercise to be held next May focuses on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief operations in name, it will carry out landing drills on an uninhabited island using aircraft, amphibious vehicles and boats. Many drills will be common to operations dedicated to defending and recapturing remote islands. Conducting landing drills on an uninhabited island in the East China Sea together with France will send a strong warning to China, which aims to seize the Senkakus. Scheduled for deployment in the exercise are a transport vessel of the MSDF; the GSDF’s amphibious rapid deployment brigade, a unit specialized in operations to recapture remote islands; U.S. naval vessels and Marines; French naval vessels; and a ground unit stationed in French Polynesia.
The Ministry of Defense is also mulling scaling back the exercise to one using Camp Ainoura (Nagasaki Prefecture), home to the amphibious rapid deployment brigade, and vessels.
The Japanese government places importance on the strengthening of security cooperation with the French military. It identifies the exercise as a Plus-2 framework, which adds Japan and France to the “Five Eyes” intelligence-sharing alliance formed by the five English-speaking countries of the U.S., U.K. Australia, Canada and New Zealand. The French military joins surveillance operations on North Korea’s transshipment smuggling activities. The Plus-2 framework is already in place, as Japan and the Five Eyes nations are also taking part in operations to surveil North Korea. The Japanese government also wants to use this framework to step up efforts to contain China.