The exercises, known as "Veer Guardian 2023," were conducted by members of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) and took place at the Hyakuri Air Base, the closest military air base to Tokyo. The exercises conclude on Jan. 26 and involve multi-domain air combat missions and exchanges of expertise on a variety of operational aspects.
The JASDF contingent in the drills features four domestically-manufactured F-2 and F-15 fighters each, while the IAF contingent brought four Russian-made Su-30 MKI fighters, one Russian-made IL-78 refueling tanker and two American-made C-17 transport aircraft.
"This will be another step [toward] deepening strategic ties and closer defense cooperation between the two countries," noted India's Ministry of Defense in a statement.
The JASDF said in a statement last month before the drills began that the joint effort aims "to promote mutual understanding and strengthen defense cooperation between the air forces, and enhance JASDF's tactical skills."
"Japan and India are in a special strategic global partnership relationship," said JASDF Chief of Staff Shunji Izutsu, adding that "India is a like-minded country" to Japan.
The joint air combat drills mark the first time Japan and India have engaged in defense cooperation exercises with their respective air forces. This is also the first time Japan and India have engaged in one-on-one military exercises.
For over a decade, Tokyo and New Delhi have been collaborating in joint military exercises along with other nations on drills focused on maritime security. The last time their militaries met was in November 2022 in the Malabar naval exercises in the East China Sea. Representatives of the Indian and Japanese navies were joined by ships from Australia and the United States.
Shamshad Ahmad Khan, an assistant professor of international relations at the BITS Pilani, Dubai Campus, said it is very clear Japan and India are reacting to recent provocations by China. (Related: ESCALATION: India conducts nuclear-capable ballistic missile test one week after border clash with China.)
India and China in particular have been engaging in border standoffs in the disputed Eastern and Western Himalayas regions since 2020. Meanwhile, China disputes the Japanese administration over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Both India and Japan have been looking on with concern as China expands its own military exercises, especially around Taiwan, perceiving it as a growing threat.
"A growing threat perception in Japan [is that] China will do the same to Taiwan as Russia did to Ukraine," noted Khan, suggesting that this is what prompted Japan to change its strategy regarding defense cooperation with India. He further warned that, if China is allowed to have free rein over Taiwan, the Senkaku Islands "could be next."
"Against this context, the Japanese side is seeking to enhance interoperability with India, as well as other countries," added Khan.
N.C. Bipindra, an Indian defense and strategic affairs expert and editor of the Indian military-oriented news website, Defence.Capital, noted that China is definitely "a key focus" of the bilateral air exercise with Japan. He noted that both nations have a common interest in safeguarding their skies against any potential Chinese adventurism.
Bipindra warned that Beijing is likely to react strongly to the drills, possibly viewing it as "an encirclement strategy of its two traditional rivals."
Wang Wenbin, spokesperson for the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, previously said in a statement that Japan and India "should do more to enhance mutual trust in the security sphere between regional countries and act in the interest of peace and stability in the region" instead of engaging in military drills.
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Watch this clip from G News discussing how Japan is increasing its defense spending and is on high alert over China's growing aggressiveness.