Japanese helicopters train to repel invaders amid nationwide military drills

By Tim Kelly

IRISUNA (Reuters) – A Japanese Apache helicopter on Wednesday flew low over an uninhabited island in Okinawa in a simulated attack on invading forces, part of exercises under way in Japan to prepare its air, sea and land forces for a potential conflict in East Asia.

The flight over Irisuna, about 70 kilometres (43.5 miles) from the main Okinawa island, was part of the country’s 11-day nationwide 05JX. The drills, which end Monday, also include an air defence exercise in Japan’s north and simulated attacks on five nuclear reactors including the Fukushima plant.

Such military exercises are set to expand in scope and become more frequent after Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in December unveiled a military build-up that will double defence spending over the next five years to bolster Japan’s Self Defence Forces against possible adversaries, including China.

“The national security environment around Japan has become harsher, particularly with the growing military activities by China and Russia in the East China Sea, South China Sea and western Pacific,” Shingo Nashinoki, commander of Japan’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, (ARDB) said on Irisuna.

Trained to conduct operations from the sea, his unit was established in 2018 to help Japan defend the Okinawa islands, which stretch from the main Japanese islands to close to Taiwan.

Japan’s increasing defence budget will allow the ARDB to add a third regiment, Nashinoki said.

(Reporting by Tim Kelly. Editing by Gerry Doyle)