Japan-India Joint Fighter Jet Drill: What Does It Mean For Indo-Pacific Region?

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The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) and the Indian Air Force (IAF) undertook their first bilateral fighter jet training in Japan, marking a historic milestone in the two countries defense and security cooperation in the face of China’s military growth and regional ambition.

This exercise act as a deterrent to China. In a hypothetical invasion of Taiwan or the Japan-controlled but China-claimed Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea, Beijing would want to concentrate its fighter jets around Taiwan and Japan.

The two nations agreed to proceed with coordination for their first bilateral joint fighter aircraft exercise in Japan during the first 2+2 Foreign and Defense Ministerial meeting held in New Delhi in November 2019, but it was delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The drill will fortify the long bonds of friendship and enhance defense cooperation, marking another step in deepening bilateral strategic ties between the two countries drills are taking place at the Hyakuri Air Base in the northeastern Ibaraki prefecture, which is located northeast of Tokyo. India-Japan’s proximity is shown not just in the Quad but also in various trilateral forms.

Over the last two decades, India and Japan have recognized the value of collaboration in a changing global context. In terms of security and strategy, New Delhi and Tokyo are closely aligned, as seen by Japan’s involvement in the Malabar naval drills and the resurgence of Quad 2. Such understandings are viewed as a litmus test for “strategic trust” in India. Against such a backdrop, The exercise is critical and vital in terms of the security concerns that both countries confront in the context of the present global scenario. Besides, this naval exercise reflects the growing strategic trust and partnership between these two nations.

India-Japan Defense Interoperability: Countering China’s Rise

China has been flexing its military muscle in the Indo-pacific and Bay of Bengal regions. It has been expanding its naval and aviation assets in areas near Japan while claiming sovereignty over the Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited Japanese-controlled group in the East China Sea. Chinese ships have made numerous ventures into the Diaoyus islands, while Japan scrambles jets practically daily in reaction to Chinese planes approaching its airspace.

Meanwhile, China has increased military pressure on Taiwan, the self-ruled island whose stability Japanese authorities have stated is critical to Japan’s security. In reaction to US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei in August, Beijing launched five missiles that landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone near Taiwan. Japan and India hence are trying to strengthen their naval presence to counter the rise of China. However, if Japan and India work together, China would be obliged to consider its border with India. In contrast, if China invaded India, it would be concerned about Japan. Japan and India are part of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, an alliance of four big democracies (Quad). Hence, this is also a part of strengthening the security alliances which projected their naval maneuvers to create deterrence against Beijing.

Thus, the global endeavor, which also includes the US and Australia, is committed to maintaining a free and open Indo-Pacific in order to offset China’s expanding military capabilities and influence in the contested South and East China Seas. The sophisticated maritime exercises will allow the two navies to enhance their existing broad strategic alliance and, where necessary, jointly secure their maritime interests and preserve regional peace, security, and stability. the great degree of trust and understanding that they have created over the years. Though both governments emphasize that their burgeoning friendship is not directed at any third nations, it is no secret that a crucial pillar of the Indo-Japanese tie is a shared perception of China becoming more assertive and unpredictable. It has aided in the acceleration of Indo-Japanese military cooperation.

Japan’s Growing Strategic Ambition

For some years, Japan has worked to strengthen and deepen its bilateral relationship with India. Under PM Abe, the relationship with New Delhi has grown in prominence. According to the prime minister, strengthening the strategic alliance with New Delhi is a critical component of the Indo-Pacific strategy.

However, Japan has pursued a more proactive strategy in the global strategic domain which included its quest for alliances. According to Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, the Prime Minister asked his defense and finance ministers earlier in December to acquire funding to expand Japan’s defense budget to 2% of the current GDP in 2027. By launching the new military efforts, Japan is deviating from the interpretation of its post-World War II constitution, which limits the employment of its Self-Defense Forces to safeguarding the Japanese territory.

Japan has also been a frequent participant in the prestigious India-US ‘Malabar’ naval warfare exercise, which now involves Australia, since 2015. Japan has been aggressively seeking partners in the Indo-Pacific area to offset China’s ascent. As part of their growing strategic alliance, both fleets will conduct a series of drills. It has forged alliances with a number of countries, including the United States, Germany, the United Kingdom, Australia, and India.

India’s Quest for Allies in the Indo-Pacific

Faced with tough ties with its two main neighbors, China and Pakistan, India has had to prioritize its strategic and military posture from a mostly continental viewpoint for many decades since independence. Traditionally, the government has underutilized the marine sector, whether for economic growth and development or to broaden its choices in relation to China and Pakistan.

For India to profit from the shifting geopolitical landscape, particularly in Asia, it would need to overcome its maritime obstacles. Although maritime cooperation and strategic alliances are efficient ways to supplement domestic capabilities, state variables must be optimized. India and Japan have also operationalized their military Reciprocal Provision of Supplies and Services Agreement. India has reciprocal military logistics treaties with the United States, Australia, France, South Korea, and Singapore.

In September 2022, India, and Japan had a two-plus-two military and foreign ministerial conversation in which they emphasized their essential role in ensuring a free, open, and rules-based Indo-Pacific. The two nations also agreed to strengthen their marine cooperation and military logistics accord, as well as broaden the scope of bilateral defense-industrial collaboration to create cutting-edge weapon systems.

After a three-year border dispute with China, India sees the combined aviation drills with Japan as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to gather expertise over the East China Sea. As a result, the collaborative drill with Japan may serve as a stepping stone to future quadrilateral drilling. While India views strategic cooperation with Japan as critical to averting security concerns from China, it has refrained from building an alliance in the Indo-Pacific to counter the Chinese presence.

Emerging Strategic Significance of Indo-Pacific

In the aftermath of the Ukrainian conflict, the Indo-Pacific area is becoming increasingly military. Both countries agreed in September last year to strengthen their security collaboration through specific initiatives, including joint maneuvers, with the “common strategic goal of achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific that is inclusive and resilient, based on the rule of law, and free from coercion.

In the face of China’s expansionist actions, the four ‘Quad’ countries have openly announced their intention to deter any ‘coercion’ in the Indo-Pacific. The Indo-geostrategic Pacific’s context is changing as a result of power congestion. The economic and politico-military center of gravity is progressively concentrated in this region, according to several sources. This dynamic, in turn, is influencing adjustments in the regional balance of power.

In this regard, boosting Indo-Japanese entire foreign and security cooperation policies would continue to be a persistent goal. The deepening of bilateral defense cooperation has become a vital requirement for this purpose.

– Saume Saptaparna Nath is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA). Previously, she worked as an Intern at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Bangladesh.

Published in Eurasia Review [Link]