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The Air Self-Defense Force and the Royal Australian Air Force have agreed to mutually refuel each other’s aircraft in the air as part of efforts to enhance interoperability between the two forces.

With Friday’s agreement, the ASDF will closely cooperate with the Royal Australian Air Force so as to “uphold and reinforce the free and open Indo-Pacific,” the ASDF said in a statement.

The accord came after the two governments affirmed ministerial security talks in June to deepen defense cooperation in a veiled counter to China’s growing military presence in the Indo-Pacific region.

Calling the Australian forces a “strategic partner,” an ASDF officer said the air-to-air refueling arrangement will boost tactical capability between the “quasi-allies.”

In the virtual meeting of the defense and foreign ministers of the two countries, Japan agreed to protect Australian military ships and aircraft in noncombatant situations.

In a related development, the Ground Self-Defense Force has launched four-way joint amphibious operation drills involving the Royal Australian Army, the U.S. Marine Corps and Britain’s Royal Marines in Queensland, Australia.

From Japan, the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, a unit tasked with defending remote islands, is participating in the Talisman Saber joint exercise running through Aug. 7.

It is the first time Britain has joined a three-party drill, a move apparently intended to showcase its commitment to the Indo-Pacific region partly propelled by China’s action to undermine democracy and human rights in Hong Kong, a former British colony.

A British carrier strike group led by the Queen Elizabeth will visit the region this summer.

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