US, Japan Tightening Military Bond: US Pacific Fleet Commander

Foreign Affairs

San Diego: The head of US naval forces in the Pacific said a modernised military and industrial base relationship with Japan is one outcome of an Indo-Pacific Strategy released two years ago.

The strategy, released February 2022 by the Biden administration, notes the “intensifying American focus” in the region is partly due to mounting challenges, particularly from the People’s Republic of China. The PRC is combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological might as it pursues a sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and seeks to become the world’s most influential power. In response, the US and its allies are tightening their military, economic and technological bonds.

Admiral  Samuel Paparo, the commander of US Pacific Fleet, this week said “the integration of our defence industrial bases, the integration of our concepts of operations, the combinations and integrations of our headquarters, and our combining on a common mission, reflects that modernising [of] the US-Japan relationship in order to account for the international security environment that we’re in today.”

Speaking at the WEST 2024 conference here hosted by the US Naval Institute and AFCEA International, he cited the Keen Edge 24 exercise earlier this month, which was the biggest command post exercise ever with the Japanese Self-Defence Force. The event also marked the first time the Japanese force employed its new Japanese Joint Operations Command.

With Australia also participating for the first time, “we operated against the most complex scenario that demonstrated Japanese will and innovation that reflects the sea change in the national defence strategy released just a year ago,” he said.

Japan’s December 2022 defence strategy and spending plan called for beefed-up investments in missile defence capabilities and counterstrike capabilities, or the ability to hit the enemy’s missile launchers, ordnance stores and other attack infrastructure. The strategy, too, noted increased missile threats from China as well as North Korea.

Beyond large bilateral exercises, Paparo said the US and Japanese navies are becoming more integrated in their routine operations. “We’re spending more and more time in combined formations every single day,” he added.

Paparo, who has been tapped to serve as the next commander of US Indo-Pacific Command, said Japan has multiple open foreign military sales with the US, including one announced last month to buy as many as 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles. He noted Japan is also building weapons for the US, referencing a December move by Japan to sell the Patriot air defence system to the US to restore dwindling stockpiles here.

The admiral said this was just one of several efforts to deepen US ties with other allies and partners in the region, including Australia, South Korea, the Philippines and India.