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Japan and the United States will hold their first joint evacuation of U.S. troops escaping from a battlefield in large-scale maneuvers in November, sources at the Self-Defense Forces said Monday.

With the inclusion of a plan disclosed last week to evacuate civilians from a simulated overseas conflict, the drills are a sign of increasing military cooperation between the two states.

The exercises involving U.S. service members are intended as a preparation for so-called rear-area search-and-rescue operations, which are provided for under a law on emergencies occurring in areas surrounding Japan that took effect in August 1999.

The legislation is designed to “contribute to an effective implementation of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty and assure peace and security” for Japan, and requires that Japan conduct rear-area search-and-rescue operations for casualties.

The maneuvers will be conducted mainly in the Sea of Japan off the Kyushu-Chugoku coast. The U.S. Air Force and Marine Corps and the Maritime and Air Self-Defense forces will take part, according to the sources.

The exercise covers not only search and rescue, but also the transport and medical care of rescued troops and the maintenance of U.S. aircraft.

“We will actually be testing a majority of the services that we can provide the U.S. with,” said a ranking MSDF officer.

Participating services will assume that an offshore area north of the Kyushu-Chugoku region is in international waters near Japan and no combat is or will be taking place there, the sources said.

The law requires that rear-area search-and-rescue operations be conducted in noncombat zones.

An area in the Sea of Japan off Yamaguchi, Fukuoka and Nagasaki prefectures will be used for the exercise, they said.

Despite its relative proximity to the Korean Peninsula, a Defense Agency official said the zone was chosen simply because the SDF has a base near the U.S. Marine Corps air station in Iwakuni, Yamaguchi Prefecture.

The scenario assumes a situation in which U.S. pilots and sailors are drifting in lifeboats, the sources said.

An MSDF P-3C patrol plane will look for the servicemen. After locating them, the SDF will attempt a rescue by using a destroyer, helicopters and the PS-1 search-and-rescue amphibious plane.

U.S. Air Force rescue helicopters and Marine Corps transport helicopters will also be deployed.

After medical treatment, the rescued servicemen will be flown to the U.S. Marine Corps Iwakuni base, according to the scenario.

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