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Japan joins U.S.-Indonesian military drill for first time

Hamartia Antidote

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BATURAJA, Indonesia/TOKYO -- Sunday marked the last day of a multinational military exercise in Indonesia that featured Japan, Australia and Singapore for the first time.

Garuda Shield is an annual joint exercise between the U.S. Army and the Indonesian Army that dates back to 2007.


This year's drills were dubbed "Super Garuda Shield" and were the largest ever, with more than 10 members participating. Other participants were Canada, France, India, Malaysia, South Korea, Papua New Guinea, Timor Leste, and the U.K.

On Aug. 3, Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force took part in joint drills with the U.S. and Indonesian armies in Baturaja, a coastal town in the south of the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

At around 10 a.m., a C-130 U.S. military transport aircraft appeared in the drizzling skies with a roar. From about 300 meters in altitude troops from the three countries parachuted from the plane one after another. After touching down, the paratroopers moved out, weapons in hand.

It was the first time for Japan's GSDF troops to conduct an airborne training exercise in Indonesia.

"Airborne training involves great danger. It is valuable that the three countries have been able to safely carry out the exercise, while understanding their ways of training and differences among them," Lt. Gen. Kizuki Ushijima, chief of staff of the GSDF's Ground Component Command, told the media after the conclusion of the drill.

Gen. Andika Perkasa, commander of the Indonesian National Armed Forces and the country's top military officer, noted that Super Garuda Shield "is not meant to offend any country." Yet the drills were aimed at deepening communication in simulated military operations in the Indo-Pacific and were thought to be conscious of China.

Indonesia has a maritime dispute with Beijing in the South China Sea. The waters off Natuna Islands are within Indonesia's exclusive economic zone, which overlaps with China's self-declared "nine-dash line." China claims nearly the entire South China Sea as its territorial waters.

While China is quickly catching up with the U.S. in terms of military strength in the Pacific, it lacks a strong network of allies and partners. The fact that 5,000 troops from various countries in the Indo-Pacific participated in the exercise -- despite their varying positions on China -- was a show of force. Washington hopes that these partnerships serve as a deterrent against Chinese aggression.

During the airborne exercise, paratroopers from the U.S., Indonesia and Japan often stopped to confirm procedures. Ushijima mentioned the importance of understanding the differences in organizational culture and equipment, and of communicating their intentions in a simulated operational environment.

During Garuda Shield, an amphibious exercise was conducted on the island of Singkep, which is part of Indonesia's province of Riau Islands, as are the Natuna Islands. It is clear that the exercise is designed to defend remote islands, with the Natuna Islands in mind.

Charles Flynn, commanding general of U.S. Army Pacific, concluded the Aug. 3 exercise by urging all participants to train hard, build relationships of trust and come together again next year as part of a still larger effort.
 

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