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Australia and Japan Expected to Finalize Visiting Forces Agreement Next Month

Royal Australian Navy Adelaide-class guided-missile frigate HMAS Melbourne (FFG 05) arrives at Fleet Activities Sasebo for a routine port visit on Oct. 9, 2017. US Navy photo.

Japan and Australia are close to inking their first visiting forces agreement, which would pave the way to smoother combined military operations, according to media accounts.

When Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visits Japan in January, he’s expected to announce an agreement with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The two countries have been in talks about the VFA since 2014, the article adds.

A visiting forces agreement would clearly define the legal status of foreign forces taking part in temporary military activities such as relief missions or joint exercises, exempt customs on military equipment and other gear needed for military operations, and grant permission for arms and ammunition transport during military visits.

While Australia has visiting forces agreements with a handful of nations, including the U.S., this agreement would be a first for Japan. U.S. forces, based in Japan since the end of World War II, operate under a different legal arrangement called a status of forces agreement. Japan and Great Britain are also pursuing a similar agreement, the Sydney Morning Herald article adds.

The two nations started discussing a visiting forces agreement about three years ago, at a time when Japan started pushing the boundaries of its self-defense-only military and looking for ways to increase its participation in military exercises in the region.

The bilateral agreement between Australia and Japan is just the latest example of the two nations and others in the Pacific, including the U.S., cooperating to counteract the increasingly hostile rhetoric from North Korea and aggressive flexing of military muscle by China and Russia.

For instance, a year ago both Japan and Australia announced plans to boost their amphibious capabilities and beef up coastal defenses. With U.S. amphibious forces unable to meet combatant commander demand in the Pacific, the Middle East and other regions of the world, there’s been a growing recognition in Japan and Australia about the need to bolster their military capabilities.

More recently, after North Korea fired a missile over Japan, Turnbull called Abe to offer his support and desire to maintain close cooperation, according to media reports.

For some time, Australia and Japan have both been equipping their forces with high-end U.S. technology, enhancing their own security but also paving the way for interoperability between the three countries’ militaries. Both Japan and Australia have Aegis-equipped destroyers. A week ago, Abe’s cabinet approved the purchase of two Aegis Ashore missile defense systems, and Australia became the first international partner to acquire Raytheon’s Cooperative Engagement Capability system – a key enabler of the U.S. Navy’s Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) construct.

In another effort geared towards increasing interoperability, Japan is considering refitting its Japan Maritime Self Defense Force’s helicopter carrier JS Izumo (DDH-183) to accommodate U.S. Marine Corps F-35B Joint Strike Fighter operations. Japan will field an F-35A conventional take-off and landing fleet, but the Marines’ F-35B short take-off and vertical landing variant will begin operations out of Japan in 2018.

  • Hugh

    Nations in this region and surrounding areas feel threatened and seek mutual support.

    Up until just a few years ago Japan had the 2nd largest economy, and a few years earlier had been tipped to overtake the USA. However their demography prevented this. They traded with a peaceful background, noting their post-WW2 constitution.

    By comparison, China now has the 2nd largest economy, and is expected to overtake the USA. But the BIG and sinister difference – China is ramping up its military, is claiming most of the South China Sea notwithstanding numerous other nations’ EEZs, has build artificial military bases therein, has ignored International Law against them, strongly reacts to any hint of criticism against them, and is actively influencing the internal workings of other countries.

    • Curtis Conway

      Hear Hear!!!

    • kye154

      Sounds very much like what the U.S. did in ramping up its military in the Pacific after WWII, and in the South China sea, during the Vietnam war. China is just taking lessons from the U.S., don’t you guess?

      • muzzleloader

        Your anti American screed is totally vacuous. In case it did not occur to you, the US build up in the Pacific during WW2 was required to defeat the Japanese war machine, that occupied the pacific from Malaysia through the Marianna islands all the way to the Marshall and Gilberts. The American presence in the Pacific was a by product of that war.
        After the war, the hard won victory ensured a permanent presence in the pacific for security against the Soviet Union.
        Your comparison to the US and what the PRC is currently doing is totally disingenuous.
        The US has never claimed the South China Sea as its own as the PRC is now doing.
        The US is not giving the finger to international law as Hugh pointed out. The Chinese are.

        • kye154

          I have been to the South China sea numerous times to know something about it, you don’t, because you never have been there. So, knock off you inane rant.

          • muzzleloader

            You don’t have to have been there to know history and US policy. And how in Sam Hill would you know that I have not been there? As a matter of fact I have.

          • kye154

            Its rather simple how I know. You were never involved in U.S. policy, and you don’t have the foggest idea about the people anywhere in the South China sea region to know anything about its history. And I suppose you are going to tell all of us for giggles, you were once ambassador to South Vietnam, right?

          • muzzleloader

            Really? This is how you deal with someone who challenges you? By going straight to insults and sarcasm? To me it sounds like you were equivocal about the PRC,s outlaw behavior on the SCS region with a US presence. Correct me if I’m wrong.

          • kye154

            What factual info have you produced that is challenging to me? Let’s face it, you are not the authority on the South China Sea, despite your problems with the Dunning -Kruger effect.

          • muzzleloader

            I never said I was an authority on the SCS. Are you?