SAN DIEGO — The head of U.S. naval forces in the Pacific said a modernized military and industrial base relationship with Japan is one outcome of an Indo-Pacific Strategy released two years ago.

The strategy, released February 2022 by the Biden administration, notes the “intensifying American focus” in the region is partly due to “mounting challenges, particularly from the [People’s Republic of China]. The PRC is combining its economic, diplomatic, military, and technological might as it pursues a sphere of influence in the Indo-Pacific and seeks to become the world’s most influential power.”

In response, the U.S. and its allies are tightening their military, economic and technological bonds.

Adm. Samuel Paparo, the commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, this week said “the integration of our defense industrial bases, the integration of our concepts of operations, the combinations and integrations of our headquarters, and our combining on a common mission, reflects that modernizing [of] the U.S.-Japan relationship in order to account for the international security environment that we’re in today.”

Speaking at the WEST 2024 conference here hosted by the U.S. Naval Institute and AFCEA International, he cited the Keen Edge 24 exercise earlier this month, which was the biggest command post exercise ever with the Japanese Self-Defense Force. The event also marked the first time the Japanese force employed its new Japanese Joint Operations Command.

With Australia also participating for the first time, “we operated against the most complex scenario that demonstrated Japanese will and innovation that reflects the sea change in the national defense strategy released just a year ago,” he said.

Japan’s December 2022 defense strategy and spending plan called for beefed-up investments in missile defense capabilities and counterstrike capabilities, or the ability to hit the enemy’s missile launchers, ordnance stores and other attack infrastructure. The strategy, too, noted increased missile threats from China as well as North Korea.

Beyond large bilateral exercises, Paparo said the U.S. and Japanese navies are becoming more integrated in their routine operations.

“We’re spending more and more time in combined formations every single day,” he added.

Paparo, who has been tapped to serve as the next commander of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, said Japan has multiple open foreign military sales with the U.S., including one announced last month to buy as many as 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles.

He noted Japan is also building weapons for the U.S., referencing a December move by Japan to sell the Patriot air defense system to the U.S. to restore dwindling stockpiles here.

The admiral said this was just one of several efforts to deepen U.S. ties with other allies and partners in the region, including Australia, South Korea, the Philippines and India.

Megan Eckstein is the naval warfare reporter at Defense News. She has covered military news since 2009, with a focus on U.S. Navy and Marine Corps operations, acquisition programs and budgets. She has reported from four geographic fleets and is happiest when she’s filing stories from a ship. Megan is a University of Maryland alumna.

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