"Koku-Jieitai and the U.S. Air Force conducted the bilateral training … over the vicinity of the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan … The bilateral training contributed to enhancing the Japan-U.S. joint response capabilities and improving tactical skills," the statement read.
According to the document, the drills took place on Thursday and involved 14 F-15 and two F-2 fighter jets of the Japan Air Self-Defense Forces and one B-52 strategic bomber of the US Air Force's 96 Expeditionary Bomb Squadron based in Guam.
Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera noted that the military exercise strengthened Japan's cooperation with the United States.
"The joint drills were conducted in order to further strengthen deterrence and response capabilities of the Japan-US alliance. Strengthening of cooperation between Japan and the United States demonstrates Japan's will and high ability to contribute to the stabilization of the region as the security environment is becoming increasingly severe," Onodera told a press conference, as quoted by the NHK broadcaster.
It is the first time Japan and the United States conducted joint drills over the East China Sea, where a group of islands claimed by both Japan and China are located. In July, the Japan Self-Defense Forces carried out joint drills with US strategic bombers over the Sea of Japan.
Tokyo and Beijing have long been involved in a territorial dispute over the disputed Senkaku Islands, referred to by China as the Diaoyu Islands, which are located next to important shipping routes, and potentially large oil and gas fields. Japan claims it has possessed the islands since 1895, while Beijing recalls that Japanese maps made in 1783 and 1785 pictured the islands as belonging to China. After World War II, the islands were controlled by the United States until Washington returned them to Japan in 1972. Taiwan and mainland China still believe that Tokyo maintains control over the islands illegally.