US carrier leads warships in biggest ever Japan drill

ABOARD USS RONALD REAGAN: US fighter jets darted over the Western Pacific on Saturday as the nuclear powered USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier joined Japanese destroyers and a Canadian warship for the biggest combat readiness war game ever staged in and around Japan.
Japan and the United States have mobilised 57,000 sailors, marines and airmen for the biennial Keen Sword exercise, 11,000 more than in 2016, with simulated air combat, amphibious landings and ballistic missile defence drills. Japan’s contingent of 47,000 personnel represents a fifth of the nation’s armed forces.
“We are here to stabilize, and preserve our capability should it be needed. Exercises like Keen Sword are exactly the kind of thing we need to do,” Rear Admiral Karl Thomas, the commander of the carrier strike group, said during a press briefing in the Reagan’s focsle as F-18 fighter jets catapulted off the flight deck above him. Eight other ships joined the carrier for anti-submarine warfare drills in a show of force in waters that Washington and Tokyo fear will increasingly come under Beijing’s influence. “The US-Japan alliance is essential for stability in this region and the wider Indo Pacific,” Rear Admiral Hiroshi Egawa, the commander of the Japanese ships said aboard the Reagan.
Based in Yokosuka near Tokyo, it is the biggest US warship in Asia, with a crew of 5,000 sailors and around 90 F-18 Super Hornets fighters.
A Canadian naval supply ship is also taking part in Keen Sword along with the frigate that sailed with the Reagan on Saturday.
Canadian participation is taking a bilateral drill which began in 1986 “into the realm of multilateral exercises,” Canada’s defence attache in Japan, Captain Hugues Canuel said in Tokyo. Participation in Keen Sword, he added, reflects Canada’s desire to have a military presence in Asia.
Canada isn’t the only western nation looking to take a bigger security role in the region. Britain and France are also sending more ships as China’s military presence in the South China Sea grows and its influence over the Indo Pacific and its key trade routes expands.
British, French, Australian and South Korean observers will also monitor Keen Sword, which began on Monday and ends on Thursday. — Reuters