On Tuesday, U.S. and Japan started their first-ever joint anti-submarine warfare training exercise in the South China Sea — a sea region China has asserted is part of its maritime territory.
The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) announced the training exercise in a press release on Tuesday.
The anti-submarine drills saw the U.S. Arleigh Burke-class Aegis guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG-69) and P-8A Poseidon anti-submarine warfare (ASW) aircraft join with the Japanese helicopter carrier JS Kaga, the Japanese destroyer JS Murasame and Japanese P-1 ASW aircraft. According to Radio Free Asia, the Japanese Oyashio-class submarine also participated in the drills.
“The JMSDF submarine conducted anti-submarine warfare exercise with the U.S. Navy in the South China Sea for the first time, further improving our tactical skills and interoperability between the JMSDF and the U.S. Navy,” the JMSDF statement read. “In addition, through this such high-end exercise regardless of the sea area, the JMSDF has been able to improve its deterrence and strength based on the Japan-U.S. alliance.”
It is unclear how many days the joint U.S.-Japan drills will last. The Japanese ships were deployed in August as part of its Indo-Pacific Deployment 2021 (IPD21) task group and the Japanese ships are set to return to Japan by November 25.
Neither the U.S. nor Japan described the exact location in the South China Sea in which the anti-submarine drills took place.
The operations in the South China Sea are of particular significance as China has attempted to assert competing claims over large portions of the sea region. Vietnam and the Philippines have also asserted claims to overlapping portions of the South China Sea.
The U.S. has not recognized any maritime claims over the South China Sea and has regularly conducted freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs) in an effort to reinforce the internationally-recognized navigational freedoms in sea regions where other countries have asserted excessive maritime claims.
The joint ASW drills are part of a plan by Tokyo to step up joint maritime activities in the disputed South China Sea. In the days prior to the joint drills with the U.S., the Japanese ships participated in another joint drill with the Philippine Navy frigate BRP Joze Rizal. The Japanese ships also held a goodwill exercise with the Vietnamese Navy frigate Dinh Tien Hoang between November 5 and 7.
Japan’s navy is set to host at least two-more bilateral and multilateral drills in the waters near Japan between November 21 and 30. The pair of drills will include 20 JMSDF ships and 40 JMSDF aircraft, 10 U.S. Navy ships, two Australian Navy ships, one Canadian ship and one German Navy ship.