EAST CHINA SEA (NNS)  -- The forward-deployed Sailors of the Essex Expeditionary Strike Group (ESG) joined Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU) to begin the biennial exercise Keen Sword Dec. 3 in the East China Sea.

The joint, bilateral exercise is conducted in accordance with agreements between the United States and Japan and is designed to improve interoperability, increase readiness and develop professional relationships between the two nations' forces.

"We have this exercise every other year with the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF)," said Rear Adm. Richard Landolt, commander, Amphibious Force 7th Fleet. "It gives an opportunity to test each other's best tactics in a variety of conventional areas, from anti-submarine warfare, anti-surface warfare and air warfare. Across the board, I can think of no other exercise that is as encompassing and comprehensive as this one."

An estimated 10,500 U.S. military personnel are participating in this bilateral exercise. Not only will they have a chance to practice working together across various platforms, but they will also have a chance to strengthen their operational communication skills.

On board the amphibious assault ship USS Essex (LHD 2), 13 JMSDF officers and enlisted Sailors will work side-by-side with Essex Sailors while operating in one of the largest exercises in the 7th Fleet's area of responsibility.

Japanese maritime forces embarked with the Essex ESG are using this exercise to learn how their U.S. counterparts conduct amphibious operations.

"Our liaisons will work with and coordinate between U.S. and Japanese forces taking part in the exercise," said Capt. Youichi Sugimoto, commodore of JMSDF Escort Division 2. "We are here on Essex in hopes of enhancing our operational coordination and to learn about amphibious operations."

During Keen Sword, four destroyers of JMSDF Escort Division 2 will escort the dock landing ship USS Tortuga (LSD 46), the amphibious transport dock USS Denver (LPD 9) and Essex while they perform amphibious and air operations.

The Essex ESG will operate with the George Washington Carrier Strike Group throughout the exercise, which is scheduled to end Dec. 10. U.S. ground and air forces will also conduct training ashore with their Japanese counterparts.

In 1960, Japan and the U.S. signed the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the alliance, which plays an indispensable role in ensuring the security and prosperity of the United States and Japan, as well as regional peace and stability.

For more news from USS Essex (LHD 2), visit www.navy.mil/local/lhd2/.