Royal Navy joins one of the largest military exercises in Pacific for first time
With 36,000 military personnel, 30 ships and 370 aircraft participating – drawn primarily from Japan and the USA, with Australia and Canada also joining in, the ten-day exercise is a major test of forces by land, sea and air.
This year the ten-day military workout focused on a combined response to armed attacks aimed at testing the readiness of participating countries whilst improving the ability of the participating nations to work seamlessly together.
“For the crew of HMS Spey, the opportunity to take part in Exercise Keen Sword 23 has offered countless opportunities to further develop our ability to work together and continue our great working relationship with the Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force and the many other allies and partners participating in the exercise,” said Lieutenant Commander Bridget Macnae, the ship’s Executive Officer.
Departing the Japanese base in Yokosuka, Spey – paying her first visit to the land of the Rising Sun – sailed with Japanese amphibious/landing ship JS Kunisaki, to link up with the core exercise task group and one of the largest gatherings of military naval hardware in the region in recent years.
Twenty warships were spearheaded by a Japanese attack submarine and flanked by the combined strength of the US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and the Japanese Helicopter Destroyer JS Izumo.
“It was really impressive seeing such a large mass of warships,” said warfare specialist Able Seaman Harry Cox.
“It’s not every day that we get to see such a gathering of ships from so many different navies come together. Being led by a Japanese submarine with an American aircraft carrier with their full air-wing embarked, just ahead of us made me realise the sheer scale of Exercise Keen Sword.”
The second stage of the exercise built up to a full-scale amphibious assault on to the island shores of Japan with HMS Spey standing coastal guard to provide protection for the larger units against small, highly- manoeuvrable fast attack craft. Meanwhile, Japanese and other partner shipping put troops, armoured vehicles, tanks and artillery ashore by helicopter, landing craft and hovercraft.
“Keen Sword has provided the opportunity for Spey to get involved in our largest multi-national exercise to date, building upon the successes and lessons learnt from previous operations with Japanese units,” said Lieutenant Kyle-Davidson, HMS Spey’s Operations Officer.
“In particular, it has shown that these Offshore Patrol Vessels can integrate into a joint American/Japanese amphibious task group and operate close to shore, patrolling the flanks of larger operations to police shipping and help maintain assault lanes.”
‘Keen Sword’ was first held in 1985, with field training and command post exercises – also known as ‘Keen Edge’ – alternating every year. This year’s event is the 16th such training exercise.
Her participation in Keen Sword over, Spey has remained in Japan, visiting the port of Kure which allowed the ship’s company to experience the culture, traditions and hospitality of the Japanese for the first time.
Young Officers undergoing training on Spey visited the Japanese Officer Naval Academy, Etajima – the Japanese counterpart of the Britannia Royal Naval College in Dartmouth.
Other sailors headed to nearby Hiroshima and remember the victims of WW2 in the city’s Peace Memorial Park.
“Getting the opportunity to visit Japan as part of my job in the Royal Navy has been amazing,” said marine engineer Engineering Technician Morgan Redman.
“It’s an extremely diverse country with so much history and culture, the Japanese people have been so welcoming and are incredibly gracious.
“Visiting Hiroshima was a huge privilege and the Peace Memorial Park was a very sobering experience that will stay with me for life.”
Spey is one of two Royal Navy patrol vessels deployed on a long-term mission to India-Asia-Pacific in company with her sister ship HMS Tamar, reinvigorating UK naval presence after a quarter century as part of the UK’s wider ‘tilt’ to the region.