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Naval ships from US, India and Japan to start war games

The United States, India and Japan are set to kick off week-long war games in the Pacific, beefing up naval ties as they warily eye an increasingly assertive China and its military buildup.

Warships from the three countries are to begin the joint exercises on Friday, after an official opening ceremony at the Sasebo Naval Base in southern Japan on Thursday.

Known as the Malabar Exercise, the annual event usually involves India and the US, but Japan’s Maritime Self-Defence Force (MSDF) will take part this year, the third time since 2007.

The exercises off Japan’s southern coast come on the back of rising regional tensions as Delhi and Tokyo remain embroiled in territorial spats with Beijing.

China is also at loggerheads with some Southeast Asian nations over its claim to large swathes of the South China Sea.

Washington has been increasingly turning its focus to Asia as it looks to counter Beijing’s growing influence and a military buildup that has unnerved some of its regional neighbours.

“India, Japan and the United States have a shared strategic interest,” said international relations expert Takehiko Yamamoto, professor emeritus at Tokyo’s Waseda University.

“The aim of this naval exercise is for (the three countries) to manage a vast sea area stretching from the western Pacific to the Indian Ocean.

“They need to make sure the lines of communication stay robust — this exercise has China in mind,” he added.

India is nervous about the so-called “string of pearls”, the concept of a network of ports around the Indian Ocean to which China’s navy would have access, Yamamoto said.

“For India, this is a great threat,” he said.

Growing ties
The manoeuvres also reflect growing ties between India and Japan, on both the military and economic fronts, with Japanese Prime Minister making an official visit to Delhi in January — when the two nations agreed to “further strengthen” their defence cooperation and conduct regular naval exercises.

The July 25-30 exercises will include three Indian ships, a frigate, a destroyer and a supply ship, along with 700-800 personnel, Indian navy spokesman DK Sharma told AFP.

Sharma said the exercises would include anti-piracy, anti-terrorism, humanitarian assistance and helicopter drills.

“We just concluded… our naval drills with Russia, and since we have already traveled thousands of miles to that side, it’s only natural that Japan will participate in the Malabar Exercise,” he said.

The US Seventh Fleet, which covers the western Pacific and Indian Ocean, will take part in the war games while Japan is dispatching two escort ships, one US-2 search-and-rescue amphibious plane and one P3C patrol plane, said an MSDF spokesman.

He said several hundred Japanese personnel would take part.

“The purpose of Japan’s participation is to improve the strategic capabilities of the MSDF and to strengthen the cooperation among the three militaries,” he added.

China has lashed out at Abe after his cabinet formally endorsed a reinterpretation of Japan’s pacifist constitution banning the use of armed force except in very narrowly-defined circumstances.

Beijing argued that it could open the door to remilitarization of a country it considers insufficiently penitent for its actions in World War II.

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NATO launches fresh war games near Russia border

By on Wednesday, June 11th, 2014

NATO on Monday launched one of its largest military manoeuvres in the Baltic states since tensions spiked with neighboring Russia over its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.

Around 4,700 troops and 800 military vehicles from 10 countries including Britain, Canada and the United States are participating in the Sabre Strike exercises near the Latvian capital Riga.

Russia has voiced its objections to the manoeuvres, which move to neighboring Lithuania on Tuesday.

The exercises come as Moscow’s March annexation of Crimea and sabre rattling in the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad have sparked fear in the neighbouring Baltics.

Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were unwilling Soviet republics until the 1990-91 collapse of the USSR. They joined NATO and the EU in 2004.

“The exercise is very important given the current security situation,” Latvian Defense Minister Raimonds Vejonis told reporters, citing the Ukraine crisis.

Russia was quick to label the games an “act of aggression,” according to the Interfax news agency.

“We can’t take this military buildup by the alliance next to Russia’s borders as anything but a demonstration of hostile intent,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov told Interfax.

“The deployment of extra NATO troops in Central and Eastern Europe, even on a rotational basis is a violation of Russia’s agreements with the alliance.”

The exercises are being held in the Baltic states from June 9 to 20. Denmark, Finland and Poland are among the other NATO members involved.

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US-Philippines launch war games after Obama pledge

Thousands of American and Philippine troops launched large annual exercises on Monday after US President Barack Obama vowed “ironclad” backing for its Asian ally, locked in a tense maritime row with China.

Filipino Foreign Secretary Albert del Rosario said the 10-day drills were necessary to deal with the challenge of “aggressive” neighbours intent on “changing the status quo”.

He did not mention China directly, but Beijing has been robust in its efforts to assert territorial claims over most of the South China Sea, putting a strain on its relationships with neighbouring countries.

“In recent years tensions in the Asia-Pacific region have increased due to extensive and expansive maritime and territorial claims undermining the rule of law,” del Rosario said at the opening ceremony.

“Aggressive patterns of behaviour aimed at changing the status quo threaten peace and stability in the region.”

He added that the military exercise, known as Balikatan (Shoulder to Shoulder), with its focus on “maritime capability”, boosted the Philippines’ ability to “address these challenges”.

In Beijing, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said her government hoped that efforts of “all parties in this region… (were) conducive to regional peace and stability”.

State-run China Daily newspaper last week said that US has presented itself as a “security threat” to China by joining its “trouble-making allies” in ganging up against Beijing.

The Philippines on March 30 filed a formal plea asking a United Nations arbitration tribunal to declare what Manila said was Beijing’s claim to 70 percent of the South China Sea as illegal and a threat to freedom of navigation.

The seabed is believed to contain huge deposits of oil and gas and the waters straddle vital sea lanes.

Beijing has rejected UN arbitration and urged Manila to settle the dispute through bilateral talks instead.

About 2,500 US soldiers are joining 3,000 Filipino troops in the manoeuvres, which began a week after President Obama assured Manila his government was committed to a 1951 mutual defence treaty.

Dozens of Australian troops, including Special Forces, are also taking part this year as the Philippines seeks to include other key allies in the region.

Looking to raise its regional defence platform, Australia will be bringing P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft to the drills to help boost Manila’s “maritime domain awareness,” said Wing Commander Nicholas Pratt of the Royal Australian Air Force.

He said the aircraft would be operating out of the western Philippine island of Palawan, fronting the disputed waters.

– Meet 21st century challenges –

Also last week, the US and the Philippines bolstered their security alliance with a new agreement giving American forces greater access to Philippine bases — part of a US rebalancing towards rising Asia.

The deal allows US forces, vessels and equipment into up to five Filipino bases over the next 10 years, the hosts said.

“The (new agreement) updates and strengthens US-Philippine defence cooperation to meet 21st century challenges,” US ambassador to the Philippines Philip Goldberg said Monday.

Obama’s four-nation Asian tour was dominated by worsening maritime tensions between Beijing and Washington’s allies in the region, which have triggered fears of military conflict.

The Philippines, which has one of the weakest militaries in the region, has repeatedly called on the United States for help as China has increased military and diplomatic pressure to take control of the contested areas.

While Obama sought to reassure the Philippines that the United States would support its ally in the event of an attack, he did not specifically mention coming to the aid of Manila if there were a conflict over the contested South China Sea areas, as his hosts had hoped.

But he ended his trip with a warning to China against using force in territorial disputes.

The war games will feature live-fire drills, search-and-rescue operations and humanitarian response scenarios in several locations.

There will also be demonstrations of maritime surveillance systems and ship-to-shore landing exercises on the hosts’ west coast, facing the disputed waters.

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Philippines, US to hold war games near South China Sea

By on Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

The Philippines and the United States will begin war games near disputed South China Sea waters this week, showcasing fast-expanding military ties and likely further stoking tensions with China.

The annual exercises, which involve 2,300 marines from both sides, will take place amid the backdrop of ongoing negotiations to further increase an American military presence and the deployment of its hardware in the former US colony.

They also come three weeks before US President Barack Obama is due to visit Manila, a huge moment for the Philippines as it looks for US support amid a worsening row with China over rival claims to parts of the South China Sea.

“The Chinese will view these military exercises as yet another example of the Philippines stirring up tensions in the South China Sea and of the US taking advantage of the situation to increase its military presence,” regional security expert Ian Storey told AFP.

Beijing, which insists it has sovereignty to nearly all of the South China Sea, has repeatedly railed at the Philippines for refusing to back down in the territorial dispute and seeking to draw the US closer.

Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan also have competing claims to parts of the sea, which is believed to sit atop vast deposits of fossil fuels, but China has been particularly angered at the Philippines for being the most vocal.

For the Philippines, the dispute will continue to be “the central driver” of efforts to intensify its alliance with the US, according to Storey, a senior fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.

The Philippine-US Amphibious Landing Exercises (Phiblex) will begin on Wednesday at a naval base in Zambales, a province on the western coast of Luzon island facing the South China Sea.

It is about 220 kilometres (135 miles) from Scarborough Shoal, a group of rocky outcrops in the Philippines’ internationally recognised exclusive economic zone which has been occupied by Chinese vessels since last year.

Scarborough Shoal has become the prime focus of the territorial dispute in recent weeks, with the Philippines accusing China of erecting concrete structures there.

The war games, which will last three weeks, will involve two US warships and live ground fire exercises, according to the Philippine military.

Staff planning exercises will also be held “that will increase the capability to conduct bilateral maritime security and territorial defence operation”, the US embassy said in a statement.

Neither side, however, would release the specific locations for the sea drills.

The exercises take place as the allies are moving closer to a planned deal that would expand the US troop presence in the Philippines, which wants the agreement struck before the end of the year.

The pact would allow the United States to bring military hardware on to local bases, and formalise more US troop visits.

The United States had a permanent military presence at two bases in the Philippines until 1992.

The bases were closed amid nationalist opposition, but the current administration of President Benigno Aquino has rallied pro-US sentiment to counter China.

Even ahead of the pact, there has been a “surge” in recent years of US troops passing through the Philippines, according to John Blaxland, a security and defence analyst at the Australia National University’s College of Asia and the Pacific.

This has dovetailed with Obama’s strategic “pivot” to Asia, which in turn has fuelled long-held Chinese concerns about the US trying to encircle China.

“The Philippines is one of the most enthusiastic supporters for the rebalancing in Asia, and the US is very happy to have regained routine access, if not formal basing at the naval and air facilities there,” Blaxland told AFP.

Storey also said that independent research data showed there had been an increase in US military visits.

The number of US warships making calls in the Philippines “has increased dramatically” to 80 this year, he said.

A Philippine Navy officer, who asked not to be named, confirmed the increase in port calls to Manila as well as in Subic, the former US naval base in Zambales.

AFP asked the US embassy in Manila for data on US military visits to the Philippines in recent years, but no information was provided.

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Iran to fire missiles in desert war games

By on Tuesday, July 3rd, 2012

Iran’s Revolutionary Guards announced they are to fire ballistic and other missiles at desert targets during three days of war games starting Monday in a warning to threats of military action by Israel and the United States.

“Long-, medium- and short-range surface-to-surface missiles will be fired from different locations in Iran… at replica airbases like those used by out-of-region military forces,” the head of the Guards aerospace division in charge of missile systems, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, said.

“These manoeuvres send a message to the adventurous nations that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps is standing up to bullies alongside the determined and unified Iranian nation, and will decisively respond to any trouble they cause,” he was quoted as saying by the Guards’ official Sepah News website.

Although Iran frequently holds war games, these exercises appeared to underline Tehran’s threat to strike US military bases in neighbouring countries — in Afghanistan, Bahrain, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia — if it comes under attack by Israel or the United States.

Tel Aviv and Washington have said that military action against Iran remains an option if diplomacy and sanctions fail to convince the Islamic republic to curb its sensitive nuclear programme.

Hajizadeh said the war games, titled Great Prophet 7, would “test the accuracy of missile warheads and systems” by hitting the mock camps in the Kavir Desert in central Iran.

He mentioned two types of ballistic missiles that would be used: the Qiam, which has an estimated range of around 500 kilometres (300 miles), or 750 kilometres according to Iranian media; and the Khalij Fars anti-ship missile, which has a range of 300 kilometres.

Tehran refers to its ballistic missiles as “long-range” although other world militaries qualify them as “short-range”.

The longest-range ballistic missile Iran possesses in its arsenal is the medium-range Shahab-3 which, with a range of up to 2,000 kilometres, is capable of hitting Israel. There was no indication in Hajizadeh’s remarks that a Shahab-3 would be used in the manoeuvres.

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