Photo/IllutrationFighter jets of the Air Self-Defense Force and the Royal Australian Air Force at the ASDF’s Chitose Air Base in Chitose, Hokkaido, on Sept. 25 (Yoshitaka Ito)

  • Photo/Illustraion

CHITOSE, Hokkaido--The Air Self-Defense Force has held its first joint air combat exercise with the Royal Australian Air Force (RAAF) in Japan.

Part of the exercise at the ASDF’s Chitose Air Base in Hokkaido was shown to the media on Sept. 25.

With security challenges including China’s advancement in the East and South China Seas in mind, the exercise was aimed at strengthening cooperation between surrounding countries to secure the safety of sea traffic lanes.

F-15 and F-2 fighter jets belonging to the ASDF and F/A-18s of the RAAF participated in the drills, which started at the base on Sept. 24.

It was the first time the ASDF has held a joint air combat exercise in Japan with another nation's air force other than the United States and Britain.

In a speech before ASDF and RAAF members on Sept. 25, Defense Minister Taro Kono emphasized that Australia is a special strategic partner.

“The purpose of the joint exercise is to deepen bilateral defense cooperation and evolve it to a new level,” he said.

Japan and Australia decided to hold the exercise through talks in 2017 between defense ministers.

In the exercise, the ASDF supplies fuel to the RAAF based on the Acquisition and Cross Servicing Agreement (ACSA) between the two countries. The agreement became effective in 2013.

After Japan’s new national security laws took effect in March 2016, the agreement expanded its definition of supplies to include ammunition.

Besides Australia, Japan has ACSAs in place with only the United States and Britain.

“This historic joint exercise symbolizes a special strategic partnership of Japan and Australia,” Yoshinari Marumo, the ASDF’s chief of staff, told a news conference he held with Mel Hupfeld, chief of the RAAF, on Sept. 25.

China's growing presence in the South China Sea, which is close to Australia, has propelled Japan and Australia to tighten their defense ties.

China has unilaterally made the area a center for its military activities. A sea traffic lane that transports oil resources to Japan passes through the area.

At a joint news conference following the “two-plus-two” meeting of Japanese and Australian foreign and defense ministers held in Sydney in October 2018, Kono, then foreign minister, said, “We have confirmed that both countries share strong opposition to attempts to unilaterally change the status quo, particularly in the East China Sea and South China Sea.”