National

Australian air force and ASDF to hold first joint drills in Japan

by Jesse Johnson

Staff Writer

The Air Self-Defense Force and Royal Australian Air Force in September will hold joint exercises in Japan for the first time, as the Chinese military continues to punch further into the Western Pacific.

The joint drills, called Bushido Guardian 18, will take place from Sept. 5 to 30 off northern Japan, the ASDF’s Air Staff Office said in a press release Friday.

Eleven RAAF aircraft — including seven F/A-18A/B fighter jets — will fly to Chitose Air Base in Hokkaido and take part, while the ASDF will send several F-15 and F-2 fighters from Japan’s Northern Air Defense Force to join the drills.

The training will include combat exercises near Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture, the Chitose base and nearby airspace.

The training stems from an agreement reached in April last year at a Japan-Australia “2+2” foreign and defense ministerial meeting and is intended to bolster tactical skills and further deepen cooperation with the RAAF, according to the Air Staff Office.

Sino-Australian ties soured last year when then-Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull accused Beijing of meddling in Australian affairs — including in the media, universities and politics. China denied the charges.

China’s military buildup has also stoked concern in Canberra and other regional capitals, including Tokyo, particularly because of its increasing assertiveness in territorial disputes in the East and South China seas — including its row with Japan over the Senkaku Islands — and over Taiwan, a self-ruled territory Beijing claims as its own.

Collin Koh, a specialist in regional naval affairs at Singapore’s S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, said that the scheduled joint exercises are part of a recent upswing in interactions between the Australian and Japanese militaries.

This is “the first time the RAAF is training with JASDF in Japanese territory, so the significance is perhaps more of symbolizing this broadening defense and security relationship, yet at the same time also reflecting both countries’ strategic convergences — in particular, that unease towards China’s rise and especially the incessant PLA buildup and more assertive activities,” Koh said, using the acronym for China’s People’s Liberation Army.