U.S. Navy ships assigned to Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group joined ships of Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Escort Flotilla 1, Escort Flotilla 4, and the Royal Canadian Navy, in formation while aircraft from the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps, U.S. Air Force, JMSDF and Japan Air Self Defense Force fly in formation during Keen Sword 21. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Erica Bechard)

America’s famed leathernecks had no sooner finished island hopping and setting up long-range fires in the East China Sea as part of operation Noble Fury, when US Indo-Pacific Command forces and units from the Japan Self-Defense Forces launched KS21 in surrounding territorial waters.

According to a Department of Defense press release, the US Pacific Fleet-sponsored biennial field training exercise, known as Keen Sword 21, began on Oct. 26.

KS21, which runs through Nov. 5, is designed to enhance Japan-US combat readiness and interoperability while strengthening bilateral relationships and demonstrating US resolve to support the security interests of allies and partners in the region.

The Keen Sword exercise is the first big drill since Yoshihide Suga became Japan’s prime minister last month with a vow to continue the military build-up aimed at countering China, which claims Japanese-controlled islands in the East China Sea, Reuters reported.

“The security situation around Japan has become increasingly severe. This gives us the opportunity to demonstrate the strength of the Japan-U.S. alliance,” General Koji Yamazaki, Japan’s top military commander said on board the Kaga helicopter carrier in waters south of Japan.

Flight crew load ammunitions onto a Japanese Ground Self Defense Force AH-64 Apache during exercise Keen Sword, a joint and bilateral field training exercise between U.S. and Japanese forces. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer Nardel Gervacio)

Suga this month visited Vietnam and Indonesia as part of Japan’s efforts to bolster ties with key Southeast Asian allies, Reuters reported.

That followed a meeting in Tokyo of the “Quad,” an informal grouping of India, Australia, Japan and the United States that Washington sees as a bulwark against China’s growing regional influence.

Beijing as denounced it as a “mini-NATO” aimed at containing it, Reuters reported.

Japan has grown particularly concerned about an uptick in Chinese naval activity around the disputed islands in the East China Sea that Tokyo claims as the Senkaku and Diaoyu in Beijing.

“As we develop new and better ways to operate and integrate, exercises like this clearly demonstrate the growing strength of the US-Japan Alliance,” said Lt. Gen. Kevin Schneider, commander, US Forces Japan.

“In spite of the immense global impact from Covid, the US-Japan Alliance did not falter and we have remained ready to fight and win.”

Keen Sword is an example of the strength of U.S.-Japan Alliance, the foundation of peace and security in the Indo-Pacific region for almost 60 years. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Askia Collins)

An estimated 9,000 personnel from the US Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps will participate, including ships from the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group and more than 100 aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, USS Ashland (LSD 48), HMCS Winnipeg (FFH 338), Commander Task Force 72 and 5th Air Force.

Units from the US military and their JSDF counterparts will train in a comprehensive scenario designed to exercise the critical capabilities required to support the defense of Japan and respond to a crisis or contingency in the Indo-Pacific region, the release stated.

In coordination with public health and military medical personnel, every aspect of Keen Sword is continually being assessed to ensure appropriate Covid-19 mitigation measures are taken.

The planning focus of mitigation measures was to protect service members and their families; prevent the spread of the virus to US forces, local residents and allies; and ensure warfighting readiness in order to accomplish assigned missions in a Covid-constrained environment.

SH-60K Seahawks comes in for a landing aboard Japanese Ship (JS) Hyuga (DDH 181) during exercise Keen Sword, a joint and bilateral field training exercise between U.S. and Japanese forces (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer First Class Nardel Gervacio)