US, Japan to focus on amphibious landing during Keen Sword
By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 31, 2016
U.S. servicemembers and their Japanese counterparts will stage operations to retake an island during Keen Sword drills underway on Guam and the Northern Marianas.
The 17th run of the exercise, which began Sunday and goes through Nov. 11, is the first to include amphibious operations near the U.S. territory and commonwealth, a U.S. Forces Japan statement said.
The allies have practiced similar skills in recent years during Iron Fist exercises in California.
The Japan Self-Defense Forces are creating a Marine Corps-like unit called the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, which would integrate its land, sea and air forces.
Japan has been refocusing its defense priorities toward southern islands, where tensions with China have simmered over sovereignty. China claims the Japan-administered Senkakus and has declared an Air Defense Identification Zone over them, which the U.S. and Japan do not officially recognize.
In the first half of fiscal year 2016, Japan scrambled fighter jets against Chinese aircraft nearing Japanese airspace a record 407 times, according to Japan’s Ministry of Defense.
Keen Sword will also concentrate on ballistic missile defense, which comes in light of North Korea’s recent missile test launches and its ongoing nuclear program.
About 11,000 U.S. servicemembers will take part in the exercise. Most are assigned to USFJ, 5th Air Force, Naval Forces Japan, U.S. Army Japan, 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force and the 7th Fleet.
A landing craft air cushion departs amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard during an equipment offload at White Beach Naval Facility in Okinawa, Japan, Friday, Oct. 28, 2016. Amphibious operations with Japan will be a major focus during the Keen Sword exercise, which runs through Nov. 11.
JEANETTE MULLINAX/U.S. NAVY