USS RONALD REAGAN (Reuters) - The U.S. and Japanese navies established a new level of cooperation to resupply each others vessels during joint exercises in the seas south of Japan last week, the commander of the U.S. Seventh Fleet said on Tuesday.
Vice Admiral Joseph Aucoin said the delivery of boxes of food and other provisions to a Japanese warship by a U.S. helicopter heralded greater operational integration. It was the first time that the two allies have shared supplies other than ship oil at sea.
"It's a big step forward, and we want to do more of that in the future," Aucoin said at a press conference aboard the USS Ronald Reagan.
The 100,000 ton U.S. aircraft carrier participated in the annual exercise along with six other U.S. ships and around 25 Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) vessels.
The agreement to begin such exchanges means that U.S. vessels can now be resupplied by Japanese ships in waters closer to Japan and will make it easier for the JMSDF to operate further from home waters with the help of U.S. supply ships.
The Japanese and U.S. Navy are deepening already close military ties as Chinese military power in the region grows.
Vice Admiral Yasuhiro Shigeoka, commander of the JMSDF fleet, who joined Aucoin at the briefing described the security situation in the region surrounding Japan as "severe."
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe won lawmakers' approval in September for new security legislation that allows Japan's military to come to the aid of allies under attack.
Abe said the biggest shift in Japan's defense policy since the creation of its post-war military in 1954, was vital to meet emerging challenges such as those posed by China's growing military power.
It means the U.S. and Japan can repackage regular joint drills, such as the one in waters about 350 miles (563.27 km)south of Japan "to do more high level sophisticated" training.
Based in Yokosuka Japan, with the United States' only forward deployed carrier, the Seventh Fleet with some 80 vessels, 140 aircraft and 40,000 sailors is the most powerful naval force in the western Pacific.
After China, Japan is Asia's second most powerful maritime nation with more than a hundred warships.
Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore