Australia, Japan, and America are conducting trilateral military exercises in Guam as the allies look to strengthen joint response times in the face of the growing threat of China and Russia in the Indo-Pacific region.
The Cope North 21 exercises will see over 2,000 military personnel convene at Andersen Air Force Base, Guam with approximately 95 aircraft from America, Australia, and Japan.
Group Captain Nathan Christie, Australian Commander for Exercise Cope North 21, said the allies will conduct combat-readiness exercises, procedures for humanitarian aid, and disaster relief operations.
Led this year by the Koku-Jieita (Japan Air Self-Defence Force), the United States Pacific Air Forces command has said the exercise will reflect real-world threats and scenarios and focus on reestablishing combat air dominance in the Indo-Pacific region as the three nations push back against the increasing threats of China and Russia.
“China and Russia can increasingly hold overseas U.S. bases at risk,” Brig. Gen. Jeremy T. Sloane, commander of the 36th Wing at Andersen Base in Guam said at a virtual conference run by the U.S. Air Force Association on Jan. 27.
“To adapt, the Air Force must evolve from its dependence on well-established airfields, or risk building an operational edge,” Sloane said.
A People’s Liberation Army (PLA) promotional video last year for its H-6K strategic bombers showed them launching an attack on an unnamed military base. The Telegraph reported in September that the base appeared to be Andersen Base, though this was not confirmed.
Whichever base might have been targeted in the video, the Cope North 21 exercises will involve staging a scenario for Japan’s and Alaska’s F-35 and F-16 air fighters to launch a simulated mission in an environment similar to the base.
The planes will have to land in a remote environment, refuel, and launch again on simulated attack missions.
Describing the base’s northwest field, Brig. General Sloane said it is just under 8,000 feet (2,440 meters) with some ramp space, taxiways, and some hangar capacity, and is surrounded by harsh jungle.
“It has minimal markings, minimal lighting, and no permanent aircraft or airfield control,” Sloane said.
Timothy Heath, a senior Rand Corporation defence researcher, told the South China Morning Post that the practical ability of the U.S. Air Force to work operations from smaller airfields like Guam means that the Chinese military can no longer “confidently plan to wipe out the US air force presence in the Asia-Pacific.”
“The PLA will be less confident in its ability to defeat US military forces in the region because they will be less certain where fighter aircraft might operate from,” Heath said.
Cope North 21 will also establish the new fifth-generation Joint Strike Fighter’s military presence, the F-35A, as America will be deploying the planes into the theatre of operation.
Australia and Japan both have the F-35’s but will focus this year on incorporating joint air communications capabilities and web-enabled logistics support as the fifth generation planes roll out among the allied air forces.
The joint exercise comes as Russia, China, and Iran have announced they will be conducting joint naval exercises in the Indian Ocean later this month. Russian ambassador to Iran, Levan Dzhagaryan, told RIA news agency on Monday that the trilateral naval exercises will include rehearsing search and rescue operations and ensuring shipping safety.
The three countries held similar drills in December 2019. These drills were seen as a reaction to increasing American pressure on Iran after former President Donald Trump pulled out of the Iranian nuclear deal in 2018 and imposed sanctions on Tehran.