Japan and India on Monday began their first-ever joint fighter jet drill near Tokyo, the Japanese Defense Ministry said, in their latest effort to bolster defense ties as they face China's growing military power in the Indo-Pacific region.

Four F-2 and four F-15 fighters from Japan's Air Self-Defense Force are expected to join the 11-day air combat training through Jan. 26 around Hyakuri Air Base in Ibaraki Prefecture, northeast of Tokyo, according to the ministry.

From the Indian Air Force, four Su-30MKI fighters, two C-17 transport aircraft and an IL-78 aerial refueling tanker are taking part, the ministry said.

Japan Air Self-Defense Force Maj. Gen. Takahisa Ishimura (R) and Col. Rohit Kapil of the Indian Air Force shake hands at the ASDF's Hyakuri Air Base in Omitama, Ibaraki Prefecture, eastern Japan, on Jan. 10, 2023, ahead of Japan and India's first joint jet fighter air exercise. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

The exercise had been postponed owing to the coronavirus pandemic that began in early 2020, after it was first agreed between the foreign and defense ministers of the two countries at their inaugural "two-plus-two" security meeting in New Delhi in November 2019.

India is the fifth country with which Japan has hosted such a bilateral exercise after the United States, Australia, Britain and Germany, according to the Japanese ministry.

Japan's ground and maritime self-defense forces have already conducted joint drills with their Indian counterparts.

Japan and India form part of a four-way security framework known as the Quad, which also involves the United States and Australia. The grouping is seen as a counterweight to China as Beijing seeks to increase its military and economic clout in the region.

Sino-Japanese ties have been frayed over issues such as Chinese claims to a group of Japan-controlled islets in the East China Sea. Chinese coast guard vessels have repeatedly entered Japanese waters around the Senkaku Islands, which China calls Diaoyu.

India's relations with China also remain strained, especially since an armed clash in June 2020 in a Himalayan border area during which 20 Indian and four Chinese soldiers were reportedly killed. It was the first deadly clash between their troops since 1975.

Last month, another border scuffle between the two neighbors led to injuries on both sides, according to local Indian media.

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