In response to threats of invasion of South Korean-held islands near the Northern Limit Line, South Korea is beefing up its Marine Corps. The Republic of Korea Marine Corps currently numbers 27,000 personnel, organized into two divisions and one independent brigade. The ROK Marines are responsible security of the West Sea islands, one of which, Yeonpyeong Island, was attacked by North Korean artillery last Fall. South Korea plans to increase the size of its Marine Corps by 1,500 to 2,000, and stand up a new military command to oversee defense of the islands. Applications for the ROK Marines is up 37 percent since the attack on Yeonpyeong, with 3,500 applicants in the month of December alone, all competing for a total of 977 slots.
Japan and the United States are currently running back-to-back military exercises. On January 27, the U.S. Army and the Ground Self Defense Forces kicked off Yama Sakura 59, a command post exercise designed to simulate an invasion of Japan. The exercise is being held at the GSDF Western Army headquarters of Camp Kengun, on the southern island of Kyushu. The exercise does not involve any actual field exercises, mostly confined to computers, gigantic sand tables, and conferences. Past exercises have involved the simulated deployment of U.S. Army National Guard infantry divisions to remote corners of Japan, stopping enemy forces with Stryker armored vehicles and attack helicopters.
Yesterday the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force submarine JS Uzushio (pictured) pulled into the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii for a round of exercises with the U.S. Navy. Uzushio, a diesel-electric submarine of the Oyashio class, will practice anti-submarine warfare, submarine damage control, and live fire of torpedoes and Harpoon missiles. The U.S. Navy likes to exercise with the JMSDF in particular as it has no diesel electric submarines in its inventory, and diesel-electric submarines of the Oyashio class are among the best in the world.
Also starting today, the United States and Japan are kicking off the fifth iteration of the biennial Iron Fist exercises. A contingent of the Western Infantry Regiment, Japan’s burgeoning amphibious force, will spend a month at Camp Pendleton, California conducting amphibious exercises with the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit of the U.S. Marine Corps. The month-long exercises will involve practicing ship-to-shore movements, controlling naval gunfire and practicing command and control afloat. Japan is building up an amphibious capability as it has territorial disputes with several neighboring countries, including China, Russia and South Korea.