By Carlo Muñoz - 09/25/12 06:42 PM EDT
The wargame, being held in Guam and other U.S. territories in the Pacific, is based on a scenario where Japanese Self-Defense Forces would launch an amphibious assault with American support against a small island chain occupied by an invading force, according to recent reports.
The timing of the drill comes as tensions between Tokyo and Beijing are threatening to boil over in the region.
Speaking at a joint press conference with Defense Secretary Leon Panetta last Tuesday, Chinese defense minister Gen. Liang Guanglie blamed Tokyo for inflaming tensions with China over its claims to the disputed Diaoyutai Islands.
Panetta was in Beijing as part of a diplomatic tour designed to cement U.S. military cooperation with various regional powers in the Pacific.
Japan claims the islands are the sovereign territory of Japan, and blames growing Chinese military aggression in the South China Sea as cause for the growing rift.
That said, Guanglie warned Beijing could take military action against Japan if the country continues to assert its claim to the island chain, which lies off the coastlines of Japan, China and Taiwan in the contentious South China Sea.
Despite such rhetoric, Washington and Tokyo continue to downplay any ties between the exercise and the escalating dispute between China and Japan over the islands.
The Guam wargames are a routine military drill between two military allies according to the DOD, with Japanese defense officials emphasizing the exercise is not designed to mimic any real-world threat facing the Asian nation.
On Tuesday, DOD Press Secretary George Little reiterated that stance, telling reporters at the Pentagon that Defense Secretary Leon Panetta has been "very clear the United States does not take a position" on regional claims to the Diaoyutai chain.
But in August, DOD agreed to begin conducting surveillance flights via unmanned American drones over the island chain. The deal was part of a overall regional security agreement reached between Panetta and Japanese Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto that month.
The surveillance missions will likely be flown by Air Force Global Hawk drones deployed in the region. Three Global Hawks are already on station at Andersen Air Force Base in Guam.
The decision to move the Air Force drones over the Diaoyutai Islands comes as the Defense Department continues to pursue its overarching strategic shift into the Pacific.