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Gov’t mulls deploying GSDF members on MSDF ships to protect remote islands

The government has begun studying the possibility of deploying about 200 to 300 Ground Self-Defense Force members on Maritime Self-Defense Force transport vessels to reinforce the defense of remote islands and conduct patrol activities around Okinawa Prefecture’s Senkaku Islands and the Nansei Islands in the East China Sea, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.


The government’s move is aimed at reinforcing deterrence capabilities by being fully prepared so that it can quickly respond to an invasion of a remote island, among other similar situations, including those resulting from China’s growing maritime presence.


Patrol eyed in East China Sea


The government is considering having the GSDF’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, which has the mission of recapturing remote islands, and some other units to be deployed on 8,900-ton Osumi-class transport ships, according to several government sources. The MSDF currently owns three Osumi-class vessels. The government aims to realize the envisaged plan as early as next year.


GSDF members have in the past boarded MSDF ships when they were being transported to training sites, among other occasions. However, it would be the first attempt for the GSDF and the MSDF to jointly conduct a routine navigation mission.


The Osumi-type vessels can carry landing craft air cushion (LCAC) transports, which are designed to swiftly ferry personnel and tanks from ship to shore. An Osumi-class ship equipped with a GSDF helicopter participated in emergency relief activities following the earthquake off the coast of Sumatra, Indonesia, in 2004.


Although the vessels are classed as transport ships, they are expected to play a central role in landing operations as the SDF does not possess amphibious assault ships.


The government began considering a joint GSDF-MSDF operation in a bid to raise the Self-Defense Forces’ presence in the East China Sea, where many Japanese remote islands are concentrated, and to “enhance deterrent capabilities by showing Japan’s will to defend its territories,” according to a government source.


Currently, the Japan Coast Guard acts at the fore in guarding the Senkaku Islands, while the MSDF supports the JCG’s activities.


However, in recent years, China’s intrusions into Japanese territorial waters around the Senkaku Islands have become a regular occurrence, and the size of Chinese government ships has increased. In addition, the movement of Chinese military vessels and aircraft passing through the East China Sea into the Pacific Ocean has become more active. Under such circumstances, the SDF has been forced to strengthen its response profile to such incidents.


In 2013, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the Diet that permanently stationing public officials on the Senkaku Islands would be “one of the options” in order to strengthen Japan’s effective control over them.


However, there was a strong view that the deployment of the SDF to the islands could lead to a clash with the Chinese military, making it difficult to realize the plan.


As a result, a proposal that will permit MSDF ships to carry GSDF personnel to approach or leave the islands depending on the degree of tension surfaced as the latest option.


However, a government official said, “The approach of an MSDF ship carrying GSDF units would be too provocative, and that could give China an excuse to bolster its activities.”

For this reason, the Defense Ministry plans to carefully proceed with studying the extent of activities.

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