U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force ships steam in formation at the conclusion of exercise Keen Sword. (U.S. Navy/MC3 Chris Cavagnaro)

WATERS SOUTH OF JAPAN - U.S. and Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) wrapped up exercise Keen Sword 15 with a display of naval and air power of 19 ships and seven aircraft operating in formation a few hundred miles off the coast of southern Japan, Nov. 19.

Keen Sword 15, kicking off Nov. 11 with the George Washington Carrier Strike Group, is a large and complex joint/bilateral field training exercise involving four branches of the U.S. military working with JSDF and is designed to increase combat readiness and interoperability of the two countries.

"[Keen Sword] enhances our combat readiness by working together in an exercise environment that is challenging and allows us to improve our processes between one another," said Rear Adm. John Alexander, commander, Battle Force 7th Fleet. "Japan is one of our strongest allies, and the fact that we are able to work together and coordinate quickly with similar procedures and processes, makes us better to respond together in a crisis situation."

This training between the U.S. and Japan has been a routine, recurring event for many years.

"This exercise gives us the ability practice working together and that goes a long way toward helping us get better at what we do," said Alexander. "At the end of the exercise, we are able to put together a number of lessons learned that will improve future exercises and enable us to work better together in a real world environment."

In addition to working across in all warfare areas, participating Navy and JMSDF ships swapped liaison officers to improve the communication and coordination of the exercise. One of the highlights for this year's exercise was JMSDF Rear Adm. Hidetoshi Iwasaki, commander, Escort Force (CCF) 2, who operated as the sea combatant commander by coordinating scheme of maneuver for the strike group surface combatants.

"What was unique this year is that we had Rear Adm. Iwasaki serving in the capacity of the sea combatant commander," said Alexander. "It was a closely coordinated plan on how the ships maneuvered around the battle space to prosecute opposing forces as wells as defend the battle force. It was key that we are able to work together in a command control capacity such as this and employ our tactics, techniques and procedures together."

Approximately 11,000 U.S. personnel participated in the 11th iteration of the exercise. Keen Sword is biennial and conducted on the even years with Annual Exercise on the odd years.

"JMSDF are very capable mariners and they have very capable platforms," said Alexander. "We do bilateral training on a regular basis with our JMSDF partners, but to do it on this scale, once a year, bring us together in a manner that will help us understand the bigger picture of battle space management. It is important that we continue these exercises, dialogues and opportunities together."

Operating from Yokosuka, Japan, George Washington Carrier Strike Group is the Navy's only permanently forward-deployed carrier strike group and is currently on patrol in the 7th Fleet area of responsibility supporting security and stability in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.