Japan, U.S, and South Korea Plan Joint Military Exercise; ‘Freedom Edge’ to Involve Multiple Domains This Summer

By Hiroshi Tajima / The Yomiuri Shimbun
From left: Defense Minister Minoru Kihara, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Shin Won-sik shake hands before their Trilateral Ministerial Meeting in Singapore on Sunday.

SINGAPORE — Japan, the United States and South Korea have agreed to conduct a trilateral joint exercise called Freedom Edge this summer across multiple domains, including land, sea, air, cyber, and space.

The agreement was reached Sunday as Defense Minister Minoru Kihara, U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin, and South Korean National Defense Minister Shin Won-sik held talks on the sidelines of the Asia Security Summit, also known as the Shangri-La Dialogue, in Singapore. It was the first time since June 2023 for the three nations’ defense ministers to meet in person.

Currently, joint exercises among the three countries are conducted separately in the maritime and air domains. The cross-domain exercises are aimed at enhancing their response capabilities. The Sunday meeting also confirmed that Japan, the United States and South Korea would hold tabletop exercises to jointly respond to regional contingencies.

In a joint statement released after the meeting, the ministers pledged “to develop a trilateral security cooperation framework within the year to institutionalize trilateral security cooperation, including senior-level policy consultations, information sharing, trilateral exercises, and defense exchange cooperation.” They also included plans to regularly hold defense ministerial meetings and chiefs of staff meetings among the three countries.

They directly criticized China’s aggressive maritime expansion in the South China Sea, labeling it “dangerous and aggressive behavior by China supporting unlawful maritime claims.” The ministers agreed to optimize, by the end of this year, the real-time information sharing system about North Korean missile launches that was initiated in December last year.

A Japan-South Korea defense ministers’ meeting was held on Saturday, where the nations agreed on measures to prevent the recurrence of radar lock-on incidents — a major issue between their defense authorities. Afterward, the joint Japan-U.S.-South Korea statement explicitly stated, “Japan and South Korea highlighted the importance of their bilateral ties and trilateral cooperation to protect and advance their shared security goals.”

The United States has quietly supported Japan-South Korea agreements, and Austin praised the historic leadership of the Japan-South Korea defense ministers in his statement on Saturday.