Tokyo, March 16 (Jiji Press) — The Japanese government is pushing ahead with the development of Ground Self-Defense Force bases on remote southwestern islands, in response to military threats from China.
On March 26, new GSDF bases are due to be opened in the city of Amami and the town of Setouchi, both on Amami-Oshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture. A total of about 560 troops will be stationed at the bases.
Surface-to-air missile systems will be deployed in the Amami base, while land-to-sea missiles and an ammunition depot will be placed in the Setouchi base.
Another GSDF base will be opened on the same day, on Miyako Island in Okinawa Prefecture, south of Kagoshima, initially with a 380-strong unit.
The unit size will eventually reach some 700 to 800 troops as surface-to-air and land-to-sea missiles will be deployed there from fiscal 2019, starting in April.
Meanwhile, work to lay the groundwork for yet another GSDF base has started on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa. The city of Ishigaki includes the Senkaku Islands, administered by Japan but also claimed by China, which calls them Diaoyu.
Located in the Hiraeomata area around the center of the island, the base is planned to host 500 to 600 troops, including a missile unit.
The Ishigaki base project has raised environmental concerns among local residents, including about possible effects on water sources. A civil group collected signatures from about 40 pct of local voters on a petition for a referendum on the base project.
Last month, however, the Ishigaki city assembly voted down a bill to hold the referendum. The Defense Ministry then started the foundation work this month.
The ministry has estimated the total cost of developing the four new bases at about 170 billion yen.
A chain of islands from Amami-Oshima to the main island of Okinawa and the Sakishima Islands, including the Miyako, Ishigaki and Senkaku islands, almost overlaps the so-called first island chain of strategic importance to China.
The Chinese military is increasingly active around the island chain. In January 2018, an apparent Chinese submarine was spotted in waters near Miyako Island.
In 2016, the ministry opened a GSDF base on Japan’s westernmost island of Yonagumi. In the event of an emergency in the region, an amphibious unit whose main mission will be to recapture remote islands falling into enemy hands is expected to be sent from its base in Nagasaki Prefecture, as well as reinforcements from elsewhere in the country.
Preparing for such a scenario, the GSDF is proceeding with the reorganization of brigades and divisions across the country, in a bid to improve maneuverability.
Under the initiative, 800-strong mobile regiments have been set up in the Kitakumamoto base in Kumamoto Prefecture and the Zentsuji base in Kagawa Prefecture. These regiments are equipped with mobile combat vehicles with firepower equal to that of conventional tanks and travel at up to 100 kilometers per hour.
Similar regiments are set to be formed in the Takikawa base in Hokkaido and the Tagajo base in Miyagi Prefecture this month, according to the ministry.
The GSDF is also considering the regular deployment of amphibious troops aboard a transport vessel around southwestern remote islands in the East China Sea, ministry sources said.
“We aim to increase deterrence by showing the existence of troops specialized in the defense of islands,” a senior ministry official said.