(Yomiuri: November 24, 2015 – p. 4)
The Defense Ministry plans to deploy some 500 Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) personnel on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa, it has been learned. The ministry hopes to implement the deployment during the next five-year defense buildup program (FY2019-FY2023). State Minister of Defense Kenji Wakamiya will visit Ishigaki City within this week to ask for Mayor Yoshitaka Nakayama’s understanding for the plan.
The personnel to be deployed belong to either patrol or missile units that are first responders to large-scale disasters or foreign attacks on an outlying islands. The government originally deliberated on the deployment during the current defense buildup program (FY2014-FY2018) and planned to decide on the unit size in 2014. However, it put off the plan on account of the Okinawa gubernatorial election in November so as not to “increase the burden” (according to a Defense Ministry official).
The government plans to beef up the defense of the Southwest Islands in response to China’s expanding maritime advancement in the East China Sea. A Chinese intelligence warship approached the contiguous zone of the Senkaku Islands (about 22 kilometers outside the territorial waters) on Nov. 11 and 12. The government will deploy a coastal monitoring unit of 150 personnel to the westernmost island of Yonaguni Island in Okinawa Prefecture in the current fiscal year. It will also deploy either patrol or missile units consisting of 700 to 800 personnel to Miyako Island in Okinawa Prefecture as well as 550 personnel to Amami Oshima in Kagoshima Prefecture by FY2018.
The government plans to deploy long-range surface-to-air and surface-to-ship missiles to the islands of Ishigaki, Miyako and Amami Oshima, which will significantly increase deterrence against approaching foreign military aircrafts and vessels.
Although the Nansei Islands, which span about 1,200 kilometers, have strategic and security importance, GSDF units are currently only stationed on the main island of Okinawa.
With the government’s decision to deploy a GSDF unit on Ishigaki Island, the overall picture of the defense of the Nansei Islands is taking shape.