The Royal Navy Type 23 frigate HMS Sutherland (F81) has conducted a series of military exercises with units from the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) and built upon the continued efforts by the UK government to deepen the military relationship with Japan.
The British warship has recently concluded a period of successful bilateral exercises aimed at proving the ability to operate in conjunction with each other and strengthening ties. HMS Sutherland deployed to the Asia-Pacific region in January with the specific aim of strengthening ties with like-minded nations and promoting peace and security across the region.
The Commanding Officer, Commander Andrew Canale remarked, “Much work has been put into making these exercises nothing short of a success. This was an excellent opportunity to work alongside our Japanese colleagues and prove our interoperability in a series of demanding exercises. We have learned much from each other and look forward to working together again in the future”.
HMS Sutherland’s presence in the waters around Japan underlines the agreement made by Prime Ministers Abe and May at the signing of the Declaration on Defence and Security Cooperation in 2017. It also reaffirms UK support for Japan’s new, more proactive global role and marks the culmination of significant strategic military planning to deepen military ties between the two nations.
JMSDF units included the Japanese destroyer Suzunami, the tanker Tokiwa and a submarine, whilst exercises included co-ordinated manoeuvres, a fuelling replenishment at sea between Sutherland and Tokiwa, a boarding exercise and an advanced anti-submarine serial. Sutherland and Suzunami took the opportunity to exchange personnel from both ships in order to deepen the collective understanding and interoperability between the two units.
Having spent two days embedded on board Suzunami, Sutherland’s Principal Warfare Officer, Lieutenant Commander Matt Millyard said, “The JMSDF is a highly proficient and professional force. My two days on board certainly demonstrated the many similarities in our approach to tactical exercises. Having now established a good working rapport with the JMSDF, I hope that follow-on units can build on the excellent relationship we have enjoyed during this invaluable period of training”.
Whilst the strategic benefits of this ongoing co-operation are clear, there have also been valuable gains at the tactical level which will help the Royal Navy as it increases the level of knowledge and experience required to operate in the region. Although the two navies often operate together as part of coalition task forces in the Middle East, exercises off the coast of Japan have been a rarity.
Wildcat helicopter Flight Observer Lieutenant Max Cosby RN explained, “This bilateral exercise has provided a good opportunity on many levels, not least with respect to operating the Royal Navy’s Wildcat helicopter in the region for the first time ever. In particular we gained valuable experience in a complex anti-submarine exercise with Japanese maritime patrol aircraft ahead of the UK’s reacquisition of this capability.”
This period of exercises follows a busy period of defence engagement, maintenance and a much-needed mid-deployment leave period alongside in Yokosuka, Japan.