Japan, U.S., India to hold major naval drill off Okinawa starting Friday

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

Japan, India and the United States are set to hold a major trilateral naval drill starting Friday in the waters off the east coast of Okinawa Prefecture, the Maritime Self-Defense Forces said in a press release Tuesday.

The large-scale exercises, called Malabar and scheduled to run through June 17, are part of an annual event that since last year has included Japan as a permanent member.

The drills, which will focus on anti-submarine warfare and air-defense training, are likely to bolster ties between the three allies amid Beijing’s militarization of the disputed South China Sea and its repeated incursions into Japanese territorial waters in the East China Sea. The East China Sea is home to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyus.

China is in the process of beefing up its submarine fleet, which has stoked concern in Tokyo and Washington.

Tokyo participated in the 2007 Malabar exercises hosted by India, but after strong protests by China against the inclusion of Japan and Australia, it has taken part in the drills only four other times.

The MSDF will dispatch its new Hyuga “helicopter carrier,” as well as P-3C and P-1 patrol planes, and US-2 rescue aircraft to the drills.

The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, will also take part in the exercises.

In December, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Indian leader Narendra Modi agreed that Japan would take part in the exercise on a regular basis.

On the sidelines of the Shangri-la dialogue in Singapore on Friday, Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and his Indian counterpart, Manohar Parrikar, agreed to boost trilateral cooperation with the U.S. amid China’s growing assertiveness in the region, Kyodo News reported.