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A joint military drill was launched by the American and Japanese military forces, amid North Korea tension over its ballistic and nuclear missile program, at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, Naval Amphibious Base Coronado and Naval Auxiliary Landing Field San Clemente Island in southern California.
The recently concluded exercise called the Iron Fist 2018 – the 13th iteration of the amphibious warfare exercise held annually – kicked off on January 12 and concluded on February 12. This five-week-long bilateral drill involved the US Marine Corps, around 500 US Marines and sailors of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit; and around 350 soldiers of the Western Army Infantry Regiment of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF).
This year, the exercise's focus – according to a US Marine Corps press release – was "on advanced marksmanship, amphibious reconnaissance, fire and maneuver assaults, staff planning, logistical support, medical knowledge sharing, fire support operations, including mortars, artillery and close air support, and amphibious landing operations".
"It is essential that US Marines and sailors maintain our strong working relationship with our Japanese military partners and continue building our mutual understanding of each other's amphibious capabilities", commanding officer of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit, Colonel Fridrik Fridriksson, said – as reported by The Diplomat.
Furthermore, this year's exercise – as told by Fridriksson –  was a bit complex than that of last year's as it involved more combined arms, more live fire, and was a little more technical.
The joint military drill, along with its complex exercises, came as tensions with North Korea had put the US, Japan, and South Korea on alert.
It can be remembered that in November, despite warnings from the US President Donald J. Trump, North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) – the Hwasong-15, which Kim Jong Un regarded as "the most powerful ICBM" and "a great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force."
Experts, like the US Defense Secretary James Mattis, claimed that the missile launch demonstrated that Pyongyang has the capability to "hit everyone in the world."
"…it's a continued effort to build a threat – a ballistic missile threat that endangers world peace, regional peace, and certainly the United States", he said.
The ICBM, which flew higher than the previous missiles launched, was likely to have landed in Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone – which, did not only heighten tensions between the US and North Korea but with Japan most especially.
But despite the growing tension, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that the US "remains committed to finding a peaceful path to denuclearization" including asking China to punish Pyongyang over nuclear ambitions. However, since China hates Japan for a number of reasons (i.e., territorial disputes, world war, and Nanking issues) and because President Xi Jinping does not seem to trust Trump, this is unlikely to happen.
He added a light warning about Washington's limited patience – most especially Trump, who, earlier this year exchanged threats with his North Korean counterpart. He also assured to redouble international pressure on Pyongyang.
Meanwhile, in addition to preparations for North Korean threats, this year's Iron Fist is a means for Japan to establish a "joint dynamic defense force" called the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB) – a new Japanese unit that is quite similar to the US Marines which can be used to defend contested territories.
Partnering with the Marine Corps and the Navy, Japan leans on their long expertise to develop comparable tactics, procedures, and techniques for the new brigade force. This includes developing its inter-service coordination which, as of the moment, remains the biggest challenge for the Japanese military as it is plagued by inter-service rivalry and budgetary constraints.
This year's joint exercise is the last on the list before the Japanese established the new brigade in March.

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