Despite their differences of view on other issues, the China factor has stabilized the strategic cooperation between the two countries. The first air exercise between India and Japan is scheduled for January 12–26. The Japanese Air Self Defense Forces and the Indian Air Force will be engaging in joint training for the first time. Veer Guardian 2023 will take place at Japan's Hyakuri Air Base.
Avni Chaturvedi, a Sukhoi-30MKI Squadron Leader, will be in charge of the Indian team. According to reports, this will be the first time an Indian fighter squadron will be commanded by a female fighter pilot during a bilateral exercise with a foreign partner. Four Su-30 MKI, two C-17, and one IL-78 will be part of the Indian contingent, while four F-2s (a Japanese version of the F-16 fighter developed by the United States) and four F-15s will be on the Japanese side.
The goal of the air exercise is to improve communication between the two sides about air defense. The bilateral air exercise will involve "the performance of various aerial combat drills between the two Air Forces multi-domain air combat operations in a complex environment and will exchange best practices," according to a statement from the Indian Ministry of Defense. The exercise, according to the release, "will strengthen the long-standing friendship between the two Air Forces and expand the channels of defense cooperation."
The exercise is in line with the declaration made following the 2+2 dialogue between the foreign and defense ministers of the two nations, where the two sides noted "the substantial expansion of Japan-India security and defense cooperation" and agreed to keep conducting bilateral and multilateral exercises in a multilayered fashion. These goals are also consistent with the free and open Indo-Pacific vision that Japan and India have often expressed as being devoid of coercion, particularly during the most recent summit between Prime Ministers Narendra Modi and Kishida Fumio of Japan in 2022.
Concerns Over Chinese Aggressiveness:
Beijing's expanding presence in the Indian and Pacific Oceans, and its risks to supply networks have united Tokyo and New Delhi on a strategic level. This has been especially true over the past three years as India and China have been engaged in a border standoff in Galwan, Ladakh. Given this developing strategic congruence and the newfound feeling of purpose in the relationship, it is telling that Prime Minister met with Japan Prime Minister twice last year at the leader-level. The partnership between India and Japan is probably going to stay the course and strengthen owing to China, despite their disagreements on a few subjects, such as the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
This will involve cooperation in the areas of economic security, supply chain challenges, and defense and security. The two leaders stated in March 2022 that their two economies will be driven by "robust bilateral investment and trade flows through diversified, resilient, transparent, open, secure and predictable global supply chains that provide for economic security and prosperity of their peoples," reflecting the new importance of economic security in Japan's thinking. At the Summit on Global Supply Chain Resilience, Prime Minister made similar claims when he said that the "3Ts"—Trusted Source, Transparency, and Time frame—were essential for better global supply chains.
In addition to increasing the frequency of yearly military drills involving their armed forces, India and Japan have intensified their security and political discussions. Other bilateral exercises between the two sides are taking place in the background of the air exercise. At the Foreign Training Node in Belgaum, southern India, the two armies engaged in Exercise Dharma Guardian-2022. The Indian Ministry of Defense said in a statement that "Both contingents not only shared their knowledge on current counterterrorism operations topics, but also took advantage of this opportunity to share their experiences on utilizing disruptive technology like Drone and Anti-Drone weapons."
The sixth iteration of the two navies' yearly maritime exercise, JIMEX 22, took place in the Bay of Bengal in September. This year's edition comprised "some of the most sophisticated exercises done together by the two fleets," according to the Indian Ministry of Defense, which also involved "advanced level anti-submarine warfare, weapon firings, and Air Defense drills." Submarines, fighter jets, and ship-borne helicopters all took part in the drill.
The two nations joined forces in November for the multilateral Malabar exercise, which also featured Australia and the United States. The exercise's maritime component included "live weapon firings, surface, anti-air, and anti-submarine warfare drills, and tactical procedures," according to the Indian Ministry of Defense. It also "allowed the four navies to solidify interoperability and refine their tactical skills."
Along with the joint military drills, the two parties have stepped up their political discussions and security conversations. For the 20th high-level conference between the two coast guards, a team from the Indian Coast Guard led by its director general visited Tokyo in September. As was already mentioned, the two nations' defense and foreign ministers met twice in September for 2+2 ministerial discussions.
There were some concerns that India-Japan relations may deteriorate after Abe Shinzo's unexpected death last year, but Japan and India’s Prime Minister seem to have found common ground despite their differences about the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Strong sanctions against Russia and anti-Russian votes in the UN are shared positions among all of India's new security allies. India hasn't done this yet and has chosen to abstain from U.N. votes because it feels uncomfortable naming Russia by name.
The China factor has kept the India-Japan strategic alliance stable, which is better than it may have been in the short term. India and Japan will continue to strive for stronger strategic and military cooperation, interoperability, and preparation for any eventuality given that China remains a belligerent force in the Indo-Pacific and beyond.