By Lan Ying
Exercise Keen Sword 21 (KS21), the largest-scale joint military exercise between the US and Japan this year, began on October 26 and ran through November 5 in the western Pacific Ocean. Keen Sword is a bilateral biennial defense exercise designed to enhance US-Japan combat readiness and interoperability. The US side sent 9,000 personnel to participate, including ships from the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group and more than 100 aircraft from Carrier Air Wing Five (CVW-5) , Task Force 72 and 5th Air Force. The Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) assigned 37,000 troops, 20 ships and 170 aircraft, driving the total participating troops of the two countries to 46,000.
The exercise was carried out in Japan’s Okinawa Prefecture and the surrounding waters. The highlight was the joint offshore island defense drill at Gaja-Jima , a small uninhabited island in the Tokara Islands, about 200km southwest of the Kagoshima Prefecture. Japan’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade , a unit specifically set up to defend offshore islands, participated in the “island seizing” drill, in which it deployed JSDF ships to perform landing operations. A JSDF officer said Gaja-Jima is very similar to the Diaoyu Islands in its continuous cliffs and landform and claimed the drill would send a strong signal to surrounding countries.
The exercise was aimed to test the interoperability between the American and Japanese forces on the sea, on the ground, and in the air, to make sure the US military will be able to effectively support Japan’s defense operations in case of a crisis or emergency in the Indo-Pacific. F-35 fighter jets and sea-based anti-missile systems from both sides carried out joint operations throughout the exercise to demonstrate their highly coordinated and integrated interoperability.
Analysts said this year’s Keen Sword exercise featured a large scale and strong offensiveness, fully demonstrating the US-Japan ability of joint combat operations in future conflicts. Meanwhile, the exercise's location – around Okinawa, close to Russia and China, is highly targeted. Japan’s Kyodo News said the US Marines is adjusting its strategy to make Expeditionary Advanced Base Operations (EABO ), including landing on islands in the Asia-Pacific region, one of its combat options, which may also affect the future deployments of US troops stationed in Japan. It's clear that the KS21 exercise has a deep strategic significance. It isn't just about the joint operations of the US and Japanese troops but also their strategic next-steps in the Asia Pacific. For this reason, Japan, by taking advantage of Washington’s support, is expected to intensify military activities in the Indo-Pacific region.
The US has carried out intensive joint military exercises either with Japan or with Japan and Australia around China since the Covid-19 pandemic. The international community has paid close attention to the harm caused by American moves in the Asia-Pacific region. In its crisis observation report released in July this year, the International Crisis Group (ICG) listed many regional hot spots, such as the Korean Peninsula and the South China Sea, as the top 16 regions of possible conflict aggravation worldwide, and the worsening security situation in each and every of those regions is directly linked with the US. A Russian expert on international issues called this a very dangerous signal that there is a greater risk of the US military stirring up more severe conflicts.
Disclaimer: This article is originally published on China Youth Daily, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.