Japan's navy held its annual fleet review yesterday, with destroyers lining the seas and missiles roaring through the air in a major display of this country's military power.
More than 8,100 troops and 48 ships -- including AEGIS-equipped destroyers and state-of-the-art submarines -- took part in the review, which was held in waters just south of Tokyo.
"Our country's Self-Defense Forces are being called upon to play a more crucial and varied role," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said in an address to the sailors aboard the Kurama, a destroyer that served as flagship during the maneuvers.
Abe singled out North Korea as a major threat to Japan, saying its recent ballistic missile test launches and its claim to have exploded a nuclear device on Oct. 9 are "grave and unforgivable."
Though planned well before North Korea's nuclear test, yesterday's review put the Japanese navy's best ships on display -- from vessels rigged with the advanced AEGIS radar system to brand new, conventionally powered submarines and high-speed hovercraft capable of quickly putting heavy vehicles or hundreds of troops ashore in difficult to reach locations.
"I believe this is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate our readiness," Abe said in his address.
While limited by Japan's post-World War II Constitution to a strictly defensive role, Japan's military is one of the largest and best equipped in the world.
Largely in response to the North Korean threat, and concerns over the growth of China's military, it is getting stronger.
Last week, lawmakers began discussing a plan to boost the Defense Agency to a full-fledged ministry, giving it greater clout in budget and policy negotiations.
The transformation is expected to come over the New Year's holidays, though it still requires a final vote in parliament.
Concerns over North Korea have also led Japan to step up efforts to strengthen its missile defenses.
Japan launched its third spy satellite earlier this year and is rapidly moving ahead on plans to deploy missiles around the country in an ambitious, multibillion dollar missile shield project with the US.
Soon after Pyongyang's nuclear test, Japanese warships were dispatched to the Sea of Japan to monitor activity on the Korean Peninsula.
Japan also currently has warships in the Indian Ocean which are providing logistical support to coalition forces that are deployed in Afghanistan.