TOKYO -- Japan's newly launched marine unit will hold joint exercises with the U.S. in October off the coast of Okinawa and in the South China Sea to show off its readiness to counter invaders amid Beijing's military expansion in the region.
The Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade will first take part in the Kamandag exercise by American and Philippine forces, focusing mainly on disaster response training. The unit is also slated to join the Keen Sword exercise later in October between Japan and the U.S., simulating retaking islands from invaders and other operations with U.S. Marines.
Keen Sword involves all three branches of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, as well as the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps. In 2016, about 25,000 Japanese and 10,000 American service members participated. The addition of Japanese marines this year will help bolster the countries' ability to defend remote islands.
The marine unit of the Ground SDF launched at the end of March with roughly 2,100 members. The amphibious force is designed to take back islands in the case of a foreign occupation. It engaged in joint operations with the Maritime SDF in May, and conducted a small drill with the U.S. in Hawaii this summer.
China placed its Coast Guard, whose vessels frequently sail in waters near Japan's Senkaku Islands, which China claims as the Diaoyu, under the Central Military Commission in July. The move could blur the lines between the guard, which is not technically a military organization, and the Chinese military. Japan hopes that its marines will deter China from continued expansionism in the region.
The Defense Ministry plans to deploy Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft in Saga Prefecture for transporting the marine unit. Saga Gov. Yoshinori Yamaguchi has accepted the deployment but negotiations with local fishermen remain.
"Without the deployment of Ospreys, we will not be able to respond swiftly to contingencies," said a concerned Defense Ministry official.