Air Force Ospreys make first landing on Japanese destroyer to start Keen Sword drills

By SETH ROBSON | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 27, 2020

EAST OF JAPAN ON THE JS KAGA — Standing on the deck of a Japanese flattop, jet fighters screaming overhead, the commander of U.S. Forces Japan on Monday called out China for “malign activities” against its neighbors in the Western Pacific.

Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider and Gen. Koji Yamazaki, chief of Japan’s military, had just landed in an Air Force special operations CV-22 Osprey marking the start of the biennial Keen Sword exercise and the first time a tiltrotor aircraft had touched down on the helicopter destroyer JS Kaga — something, they said, shows the ability of their forces to work together.

“Our arrival today was simply to demonstrate the ability to move a few people but the same capability could be used to deploy combat troops to defend the Senkaku Islands or respond to other crisis and contingencies,” Schneider said, referring to Japanese administered islands in the East China Sea that are also claimed by Taiwan and China.

The islands — known as Daioyu by the Chinese — are surrounded by natural resources including fish, oil and gas.

Schneider listed recent “malign activities on the part of Beijing.”

These included breaking an agreement to protect the rights of people in Hong Kong; harassment of neighbors such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam; militarization of outposts built illegally in the South China Sea; and continued harassment of Taiwan by Chinese military, he said.

Over the next 10 days approximately 9,000 U.S. service members from the Navy, Marine Corps, Army and Air Force will train with 37,000 Japanese personnel along with 20 ships and 170 aircraft.

The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier cruised off the Kaga’s starboard side as the generals spoke to reporters on the deck.

“The security environment surrounding Japan has been increasingly becoming severe,” Yamazaki said.

Almost three weeks ago, Japan Coast Guard vessels responded to Chinese patrol ships lingering near the Senkakus, and at least once approaching a Japanese fishing vessel. It was the longest stay near the islands by Chinese ships since Japan purchased them in 2012, according to Japan Times on Oct. 13.

It’s important for U.S. and Japanese forces to work together to defend Japan’s land, sea and air territory, including the Senkakus, Yamazaki said.

The U.S.-Japan alliance is a cornerstone of the peace and stability in the Far East and must demonstrate unwavering strength, even during a pandemic, he said.

America will continue to send its most advanced military capabilities to the region, Schneider said, noting that both the U.S. and Japan operate the Ospreys and fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighters.

“I very much look forward to the exercise of these capabilities with these platforms off the Kaga and (JS) Izumo in the near future,” Schneider said.

Japan’s largest warships are being upgraded to accommodate F-35B fighters like the ones that operate from the Sasebo, Japan-based amphibious assault ship USS America.

Since late last year, the Chinese navy has launched two Type 075 amphibious assault ships that are about the size of the U.S. Navy’s USS Wasp amphibious ship; a third is reportedly due to join the fleet shortly.

Keen Sword includes space and cyber operations, Yamazaki said. The United States stood up its Space Force in December and Japan established its first space operations squadron in May.

“Nowhere else in the world will you find two nations operating together in the way we do,” Schneider said.

U.S. Marines and Japan’s new amphibious brigade will practice amphibious landings on islands off the coast of Japan as part of the drills.

Japan’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, a force modeled after the U.S. Marines and charged with defending outer islands, some of which are claimed by China, will participate in the training. The brigade has been building its capabilities with the Marines’ help.

Twitter: @SethRobson1

U.S. Forces Japan chief Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, right center, and Japan's top military leader, Gen. Koji Yamazaki, are welcomed aboard the helicopter destroyer JS Kaga on Monday, Oct. 26, 2020. Seth