MELBOURNE, Australia — Japan will dramatically scale up its participation in a large-scale, high-end war-fighting exercise alongside American, Australian and other forces beginning later this month, with its warships and amphibious troops to take part for the first time.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, or JMSDF, will send two warships to participate in the biennial Talisman Sabre series of exercises in Australia, with the helicopter destroyer JS Ise and tank landing ship JS Kunisaki arriving in Brisbane earlier Monday.
Cmdr. Gerald Savvakis, the commanding officer of the Royal Australian Navy base HMAS Moreton, told local media that Japan’s involvement in the exercise gives participants “a chance to operate together to improve interoperability.”
The ships will be joined by ground troops from the newly constituted Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, or JGSDF, along with a number of helicopters from the service’s 1st Helicopter Brigade, according to the JMSDF.
The number of JGSDF troops that will participate at the exercise is unknown, although the JS Kunisaki has a capacity of 330 troops.
This will be Japan’s third and largest-ever participation at the Talisman Sabre exercises. The country previously sent small contingents of 40 and 50 troops to the exercise in 2015 and 2017 respectively. Talisman Sabre is major war-fighting exercise that includes amphibious, airborne and naval combat operations primarily made up of Australian and U.S. military forces.
This year’s exercise will see up to 25,000 personnel take part, and Japan’s stepped-up involvement comes on the heels of the first time the country fired its artillery on Australian soil, when two JGSDF FH-70 howitzers conducted a live-fire exercise in early June. The event, which took place as part of Exercise Southern Jackaroo with Australian forces and the U.S. Marines currently in Australia as part of the annual deployment there, was also the first time the JGSDF fired its howitzers to a range of 15 miles; there is a lack of sufficiently large ranges in Japan.
A total of 150 Japanese troops took part in Southern Jackaroo, and the howitzer activity is part of a suite of initiatives agreed to during an October 2018 meeting between the defense and foreign ministers of Australia and Japan, according to the Australian Defence Department.
These latest activities serve as an indication of an increasingly close defense relationship between U.S. allies Australia and Japan. They also mark the practical realization of results from the earlier ministerial meeting, which saw both sides agree to explore “opportunities to increase the complexity and sophistication of combined military exercises.”
The closer defense ties are set to carry over into the air domain next year. Defense News understands that Japan and Australia are keen to see Japan’s participate for the first time at the multinational air combat exercise Pitch Black, which will be held in northern Australia in mid-2020. An earlier bilateral air combat exercise planned for September 2018 in northern Japan was canceled due to an earthquake in the region.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News. He wrote his first defense-related magazine article in 1998 before pursuing an aerospace engineering degree at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology in Australia. Following a stint in engineering, he became a freelance defense reporter in 2013 and has written for several media outlets.