The Maritime Self-Defense Force will participate for the first time in a multilateral submarine rescue drill in the South China Sea next month, the MSDF said Tuesday.

The drill, Pacific Reach 2000, coming on the heels of Russia’s Kursk submarine tragedy, will be held from Oct. 2 to 14 near Singapore, involving the navies of Singapore, South Korea and the United States as well as the MSDF, which will send a submarine and rescue vessel, according to MSDF officials.

Although the MSDF has conducted submarine rescue exercises with the U.S. Navy before, it has refrained from participating in multilateral drills due to potential constitutional constraints against collective-defense exercises.

The MSDF will participate from a “humanitarian” standpoint, according to the officials.

The MSDF will send the 2,200-ton sub Akishio and the 3,650-ton submarine depot and rescue ship Chiyoda, which is equipped with a deep submergence rescue device.

Because nations have traditionally kept their submarines shrouded in secrecy, the planned drill has “symbolic meaning for a new age of peace, friendship and goodwill among multilateral countries,” an official said.

The MSDF submarine force is widely regarded as being highly capable. Two submarine rescue ships are always on standby in case of accidents, one at Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, and the other at Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture.

Trained DSRD divers accustom their bodies to deep-sea depths by using compressed oxygen and helium, instead of nitrogen, the officials said, as was done by the Norwegian and British divers who managed to enter the Kursk at the bottom of the Barents Sea.

MSDF divers retrieved the bodies from an MSDF airplane that crashed into the sea six years ago, diving to a depth of 130 meters. “We have already experienced (operations below the depth of) the latest Russian accident,” an MSDF official said.

Defense Agency chief Kazuo Torashima said it is possible “from a humanitarian standpoint” that the agency would send one of the two rescue ships in the case of a submarine accident near Japanese waters.

The MSDF and Russian Navy on Monday will hold a search and rescue of a commercial vessel drill, an exercise the two countries have conducted since 1998. The agency has recently placed added importance on international defense exchanges to build trust, especially in Asia.

Army officers meet

About 120 senior army officers from 33 countries gathered in Tokyo on Tuesday to discuss the role of armies in the early 21st century.

At the six-day seminar, sponsored jointly by the Ground-Self Defense Force and the U.S. Army, the officers are expected to discuss U.N. peacekeeping operations and the training of personnel, according to the GSDF.

The Pacific Armies Management Seminar has been regularly held since 1978 with army representatives from Asia, Oceania, Europe, North America and Africa meeting to exchange opinions.

It is the first time the seminar, the 24th gathering, has been held in Japan.

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