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US, Japanese militaries kick off exercise Keen Sword

formation of ships from the Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force cruise in the Pacific Ocean at the conclusion of exercise Keen Sword (Source: US Navy/US Air Force)

US Indo-Pacific Command forces and units from the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) began exercise Keen Sword 21 (KS21) at military installations throughout mainland Japan, Okinawa prefecture, and its surrounding territorial waters.

US Indo-Pacific Command forces and units from the Japan Self-Defense Force (JSDF) began exercise Keen Sword 21 (KS21) at military installations throughout mainland Japan, Okinawa prefecture, and its surrounding territorial waters.

Keen Sword 21 is a biennial, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff-directed, US Indo-Pacific Command-scheduled, and US Pacific Fleet-sponsored field training exercise (FTX). The joint/bilateral FTX runs through to 5 November 2020. KS21 is designed to enhance Japan-US combat readiness and interoperability while strengthening bilateral relationships and demonstrating US resolve to support the security interests of allies and partners in the region.


Lieutenant General Kevin Schneider, commander, US Forces Japan, explained, "As we develop new and better ways to operate and integrate, exercises like this clearly demonstrate the growing strength of the US-Japan Alliance. In spite of the immense global impact from COVID, the US-Japan Alliance did not falter and we have remained ready to fight and win."

An estimated 9,000 personnel from the US Navy, Air Force, Army, and Marine Corps will participate, including ships from the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group and more than 100 aircraft from Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 5, USS Ashland (LSD 48), HMCS Winnipeg (FFH 338), Commander Task Force 72 and 5th Air Force.

Units from the US military and their JSDF counterparts will train in a comprehensive scenario designed to exercise the critical capabilities required to support the defence of Japan and respond to a crisis or contingency in the Indo-Pacific region.

US training will focus on maritime, ground and air events. Because of the bilateral nature of this exercise, JSDF training will be similar and will exercise a wide range of warfighting capabilities and demonstrate the inherent flexibility and capability of the US and Japanese militaries.

In co-ordination with public health and military medical personnel, every aspect of Keen Sword is continually being assessed to ensure appropriate COVID-19 mitigation measures are taken – the planning focus of mitigation measures was to protect service members and their families; prevent the spread of the virus to US forces, local residents and allies; and ensure warfighting readiness in order to accomplish assigned missions in a COVID-constrained environment.


This joint capability development builds on statements made by US Secretary of the Navy Kenneth Braithwaite, who recently made visits to the US Indo-Pacific Command area of responsibility, where he visited stops in Japan, Singapore, Guam, and the Republic of Palau. Secretary Braithwaite also met with Sailors and Marines providing forward presence, and local government and Defence officials.

While in Japan, Secretary Braithwaite visited Commander, Fleet Activities Yokosuka, where he met with the ship’s crew and observed morning colours aboard the Arleigh Burke Class guided-missile destroyer USS Milius (DDG 69) in dry dock at the US Naval Ship Repair Facility Japan Regional Maintenance Centre the facility employs both US military and civilian personnel, as well as over 2,000 full-time Japanese nationals.

Secretary Braithwaite explained the continued importance of the continued development of interoperability and strategic partnerships, explaining, "Strengthening these relationships through enhancing interoperability and executing maritime security and awareness operations are vital to maintaining a competitive advantage in this complex global security environment.  

"None of this would be feasible without the forward-deployed Sailors, Marines and civilians whose efforts of which I could not be more proud."

More than 30,000 US Sailors and Marines and most of the Department of the Navy’s regional forward-deployed forces reside in Japan, and the JMSDF participates in numerous US bilateral and multilateral exercises, which increase interoperability between the two navies. In August, the JMSDF participated in Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2020, which provided a unique training opportunity designed to foster and sustain co-operative relationships that are critical in the region.

US, Japanese militaries kick off exercise Keen Sword
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