Ahead of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Tokyo later this year, India and Japan are planning to hold their first-ever military exercise amid China’s growing military and economic influence in the region.

Japanese Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera is expected to visit India mid-August to meet top Indian ministers, including Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, to discuss the broad contours of the proposed exercise involving the Indian Army and the Japan Ground Self-Defence Force (JGSDF), it is learnt.

The exercise could take place before the end of the year. Incidentally, Modi is expected to visit Japan towards the end of the year for his annual summit with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

Both sides are also looking at the possibility of holding a joint air combat drill involving the Indian Air Force and the Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF). Both sides have so far refrained from publicly announcing their plans to hold joint exercise.

‘’There are so many possibilities in India-Japan ties…we are exploring all possibilities for mutual cooperation, including defence cooperation,’’ said an official source in New Delhi.

While military cooperation between the Indian Army and the JGSDF remains in its infancy, the Indian Navy and Japan’s Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) have been forging closer ties already for a number of years.

The Indian Navy, the JMSDF, and the US Navy only last month concluded the 22nd rendition of the Malabar naval exercise, involving aircraft, ships, and personnel from all three navies.

Japan became a permanent member of the annual Malabar naval exercise, originally a bilateral naval drill between the United States and India, in 2015.

At the 2016 Indo-Japane Defence Ministerial Meeting, the two countries agreed to explore setting up a joint Maritime Strategic Dialogue to deepen a lower level annual maritime security dialogue between defence and foreign ministry officials.

The defence industries of both sides have also been interested in deepening cooperation. In April, Japanese manufacturer Shinmaywa Industries and Indian firm Mahindra Defence entered a partnership to promote the sale of 12 Shinmaywa US-2i amphibious search-and-rescue/maritime surveillance aircraft to the Indian Navy.

The expansion of military cooperation between India and Japan is likely to be seen as a move to counter China’s increasing assertiveness on regional issues. Both India and Japan have opposed China’s attempts to bully its neighbours on matters pertaining to the South China Sea and called for freedom of navigation in the disputed sea.