Defense Minister Taro Kono said Wednesday that boosting security cooperation with Australia will lead to regional stability, hailing the first-ever joint air combat drills between the two countries.

"Strengthening cooperation between Japan and Australia through exercises will lead to peace in the region," Kono said at the Air Self-Defense Force's Chitose base in Hokkaido, where a ceremony was held to mark the combat drills that started Sept. 11 and will run through Oct. 8.

Kono observed training in which 10 ASDF F-15 and three F-2 fighter jets participated together with seven Australian FA-18s and a KC-30 aerial refueling aircraft.

Japan and Australia agreed to carry out the exercise, code-named "Bushido Guardian 19," at a meeting of their defense and foreign ministers in Sydney last October.

In the so-called two-plus-two meeting, they also agreed to work toward the early conclusion of a visiting forces agreement, which will enable them to conduct joint military exercises and disaster relief operations more smoothly.

The first joint drill was originally scheduled for September last year, but was postponed due to a powerful earthquake that struck Hokkaido claiming 44 lives.

The two countries have confirmed trilateral cooperation with the United States in dealing with security challenges in the Asia-Pacific region, such as China's growing assertiveness in the East and South China seas.