The United States is continuing to bolster its international military cooperation in the Pacific with a joint training exercise held with 1,500 members of Japan’s Self Defense Force and over 2,000 U.S. Marines at Misawa Air Base, Japan, and on the nearby island of Hokkaido.

The U.S. and its allies face a number of threats in the Pacific, most notably from North Korea, where the parallel development of nuclear warheads and long range ballistic missiles has led to a staring contest between President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un.  However, despite diplomatic relations with China, it may be their ever-expanding naval presence and claims of sovereignty over international waters that could eventually create a conflict near Japan.

We have Marines with 1st Marine Aircraft Wing, Marines with 3rd Marine Division and the JSDF all currently together to train here,” said Marine Corps Col. James F. Harp, the commanding officer of Marine Aircraft Group 36. “This exercise is strategically shaping our relationship with Japan.”

The exercises, named Northern Viper 2017, aims to enhance interoperability at the tactical level between U.S. Marines and Japan’s Self Defense Force.  With Marines from the Marine Aircraft Group 36 providing air support to a combination of Japanese troops and Marines from the 3rd Marine Division.

The mission for 1st [Marine Aircraft Wing] Marines here is to have the opportunity to train outside of Okinawa,” said Marine Corps Maj. Eric M. Landblom, the exercise operations officer for Marine Aircraft Group 36. “The government of Japan allows us the freedom to come and train in other locations. We also have good partnerships with the Air Force and Navy installations to allow us to do this type of training.”

While these types of joint training exercises are hardly uncommon, many believe they are being conducted with increased concern about the potential for real conflict on the horizon.  North Korea claimed to be preparing plans for a launch of four long-range ballistic missiles at the region surrounding Guam last week, prompting both the President and Secretary of Defense to issue threats of America’s kinetic response to such a provocation.  However, on Monday, Kim indicated that he would hold off on his plans, pending another joint military exercises between U.S. and South Korean forces scheduled for later this month.  Despite these concerns, defense officials organizing Northern Viper 2017 were careful not to mention the North Korean threat.

The mission for 1st [Marine Aircraft Wing] Marines here is to have the opportunity to train outside of Okinawa,” said Marine Corps Maj. Eric M. Landblom, the exercise operations officer for Marine Aircraft Group 36. “The government of Japan allows us the freedom to come and train in other locations. We also have good partnerships with the Air Force and Navy installations to allow us to do this type of training.”

41st Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force & Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Friendship Day

Read Next: 41st Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force & Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni Friendship Day

Regardless of whether conflict erupts with North Korea, or even if with China, strengthening military ties between the U.S. and Japan can only improve the U.S.’s defensive presence in the Pacific, as there are few opportunities to conduct drills on such a scale.

This exercise is extremely important because we have very limited opportunities to come together with our Japanese counterparts in a large-scale to conduct this type of training,” Harp said. “We need to continue training like this to better protect the region from its adversaries.”

 

Image courtesy of the Department of Defense