By Du Wenlong
The largest-scale annual exercise Keen Sword between the US military and Japan Self-defense Forces (JSDF) has just wrapped up. Starting from November 10, the two sides have in total dispatched 36,000 troops and about 30 ships and 370 aircraft to participate in the exercise, held at a number of bases of America’s Japan-stationed troops and JSDF as well as in the waters and airspace around Japan. Several features of Keen Sword exercise in 2022 are worth special attention.
Intensified joint strategic deployment to southwest Japan
It is transpired that the US military and JSDF have set up a so-called Bilateral Ground Tactical Coordination Center at Yonaguni-jima, which is like a “forward command center” around Taiwan Island considering Yonaguni is only 110km away from the island and from where one can even see it on a clear day.
The two militaries have demonstrated at JSDF’s Amami Islands base how to operate Japan’s anti-ship missiles and the HIMARS multiple-launch rocket systems (MLRS). An important base for US-Japan joint training, the Amami Islands plays a key role in blocking the Miyako Strait. Next, the two sides will take a significant step forward in their joint operations to Japan’s southwest, and the transforming US Marines also needs some kind of “verification” in that direction.
On the surface, the Keen Sword exercise is an important way of accelerating the US-Japan military integration, but they are not as cohesive as they appear – each party has its own calculations. Washington wants to keep Japan onboard through the exercise and use its bases and JSDF’s combat forces as “forward deployments”, while Tokyo wants to enhance JSDF’s long-distance combat capability and aggressiveness through the joint exercise for its larger coverage and higher intensity.
America's anxiety highlighted by allies' participation
A British warship participated in the Keen Sword exercise this year, according to news from the British Navy, along with participants from Australia and Canada. Bringing in allies further highlighted how anxious and uneasy the superpower must feel as it pushes forward the “major country competition”.
The participation of a British warship is to refresh the country’s presence in the region as London hopes to pave the way for stationing troops in Japan permanently and making military deployments in the Asia Pacific.
The fact that other countries hope to strengthen their presence in the exercise implies that the Keen Sword may evolve into a “2+N” layout, an open structure that only serves to reflect America’s extreme anxiety within its own strategic framework of “major country competition”.