The Defense Ministry plans to reprimand Adm. Tomohisa Takei, chief of staff of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, for putting pressure on subordinates in the selection of next-generation utility helicopters, government sources said Thursday.
The rare admonishment of a top-ranking officer in Japan’s Self-Defense Forces follows a probe by a special unit under the defense minister based on whistle-blower information that the MSDF’s preferred choice for the helicopters has been switched improperly.
The move is a blow to the MSDF’s plan to procure by the end of March 2019 nine multipurpose helicopters, which the personnel hope to use for operations to counter China’s assertiveness in the East China Sea and to deal with other issues.
The helicopter selection process has been suspended due to the probe and the Defense Ministry is likely to continue to face difficulties to secure a budget for the procurement, even though the acquisition of the nine choppers was stated in the national Medium Term Defense Program for fiscal 2014 to fiscal 2018.
Takei, 59, is just a month away from his planned retirement. He entered MSDF in 1979 and served as the MSDF’s vice chief of staff before assuming his current post in October 2014.
The probe did not confirm any lobbying efforts by manufacturers, but the ministry believes he warrants a reprimand because the level of pressure he exerted exceeded internal regulations and because the case is actually affecting implementation of the national defense program.
The MSDF has been looking for a successor helicopter for UH-60J choppers now in use for rescue missions.
According to sources close to the matter, officials in a section in charge of the matter proposed a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. SH series model, part of the same line as the UH-60J choppers. But the choice was later changed to the MCH series made by Kawasaki Heavy Industries Ltd.
Through the investigation, the Inspector General’s Office of Legal Compliance found that Takei pressured his subordinates through Vice Adm. Gojiro Watanabe, then senior member of the Maritime Staff Office and currently commander of the MSDF’s Air Training Command.
Some ministry officials have said Takei strongly believed the MSDF should purchase a different model of helicopter from the one currently in use to avoid a situation in which all helicopters have to be grounded due to an accident.
But the inspectors apparently concluded that Takei’s behavior went beyond what could be seen as normal guidance and that there were problems in terms of compliance.
The government sources said the Defense Ministry is considering admonishing both Takei and Watanabe.