HAGATNA, -- The U.S. and Japan are playing war games near Guam as their alliance deepens.
The destroyers Mustin and McCampbell are exercising with about half a dozen Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force ships and training to hunt submarines and engage incoming fighters, according to a Wednesday press release.
The exercises will also include a maritime patrol aircraft, several EA-18G Growlers designed for electronic warfare attacks, and a submarine. The release did not specify if the sub was American.
Guam Exercise, or GUAMEX, is an annual exercise with the JMSDF. Japan is taking a more assertive role in regional security in the wake of provocations from China, which built islands out of reefs in the South China Sea and imposed an air defense identification zone over the East China Sea.
Japan, led by its Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, is revisiting its constitution and weighing changes that would allow Japan to take part in combat operations with coalition partners like the U.S.
Japanese naval officials have said they might begin patrolling the highly contentious South China Sea alongside U.S. warships. China continues to assert claims to international waters that neighbors and the U.S. view as excessive, creating flashpoints as China builds a modern navy.
Since the end of World War II, Japan’s constitution has barred its armed forces from combat beyond self-defense, a reaction to Imperial Japan's brutal conquest of its neighbors.
Japan has one of the world's largest navies, with more than 120 ships to include destroyers, amphibs and attack submarines. Japan's latest moves signal that those ships could sail with U.S. ships and task forces, like the forward-deployed carrier strike group based in Japan.
The U.S. Navy and 防衛省 海上自衛隊(Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force) ships steam in formation on Thursday during GUAMEX, an annual training exercise in U.S. 7th Fleet.