There has been an increase in joint exercises in the Indo-Pacific region hosted by the U.S., Europe, Japan, and other Asian countries. The number of multilateral exercises in which the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) participated more than doubled in 2021 compared with 2017. Countries are strengthening their ties to prepare for contingencies amid China’s moves.
The MSDF dispatched personnel to the Indo-Pacific region for an extended period of time starting on June 13. The official name of the deployment is the “Indo-Pacific Deployment (IPD).” Escort vessels, submarines, and aircraft units will visit 12 countries and regions, including the U.S., Australia, and Asian countries, over 138 days.
The IPD began in 2017. The sixth and ongoing IPD will be the longest and will involve calls at a record number of countries. The length of the deployment, which was 98 days in 2021, has been extended by more than a month and the number of personnel increased to about 1,000. The ships will also visit the Solomon Islands, which signed a security agreement with China in April 2022. It is apparent that Japan’s aim is to explore how to “detach” the Solomon Islands from China through naval diplomacy.
The number of collaborative training exercises like the IPD is increasing. In the Indo-Pacific region, the number of multilateral exercises involving the MSDF increased from 12 in FY2017 to 30 in FY2021.
The increase in joint exercises is due to the increase in European countries and regions signing on to the “free and open Indo-Pacific” concept. A Ministry of Defense official said, “It’s an indication of growing interest in the [Indo-Pacific].”
The “Pacific Crown” exercises are one example. The MSDF and the Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) embarked on joint exercises from August to September 2021 with the navies of the U.S., the U.K., the Netherlands, and Canada.
The British navy’s state-of-the-art aircraft carrier Queen Elizabeth joined the exercises. The MSDF escort vessels Ise and Asahi simulated defensive air battles in the skies around Okinawa and the East China Sea. The Queen Elizabeth was the first British aircraft carrier to call at a Japanese port, a reflection of how far the notion that China poses a threat is being propagated in Europe.
Japan has recently participated in other multilateral exercises as well.
Japan joined the U.S.-sponsored Large-Scale Global Exercise (LSGE), along with the U.K., Dutch, and Australian militaries, in waters and airspace south of Okinawa.
The four-nation joint exercise comprising Japan, the U.S., Australia and South Korea is called the Pacific Vanguard. The exercises started in 2019. In 2021, the MSDF took part in the exercises off the coast of Sydney, Australia, with the destroyers of other navies.
Japan is said to have a long history of collaboration with the Philippines among the Southeast Asian countries.
The bilateral exercise between the U.S. and the Philippines is called Kamandag, derived from the Tagalog word for the cooperation of sea warriors. Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) joined some of the Kamandag exercises in 2017.
In the following year, 2018, Japan dispatched the GSDF’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Team to the exercises and trained with amphibious vehicles. Together with the U.S. and Philippine Marine Corps, the GSDF carried out rescue activities assuming natural disasters.
Miyake Kunihiko, Research Director of the Canon Global Strategy Institute, commented that “China’s actions, which make other countries wary, are the problem.” Miyake pointed out that the messaging effect of the joint exercises would heighten if the number of participating countries increases. Miyake notes that “it is necessary to develop the content of the exercises based on the possibility of fighting actual battles.” (Abridged)