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Prolonged coronavirus situation affects Japan’s national defense posture

  • May 6, 2020
  • , Sankei , p. 2
  • JMH Translation

By Issei Tanaka


The prolonged spread of the novel coronavirus is affecting Japan’s defense policy. The Defense Ministry has cancelled large-scale exercises due to the risk of infection. It is also concerned that the coronavirus situation may also impact joint exercises with foreign militaries, SDF members’ overseas deployment and future defense plans including the development and deployment of defense equipment.


A total of 13 members of the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces have been infected as of May 4. The number is regarded as small for an organization with a total of more than 200,000 members, many of whom live in groups. Chief of Staff Koji Yamazaki of the Joint Staff, the highest ranking uniformed officer, stressed, “We all need to be resolved to prevent infection and create a foundation for performing the SDF mission.”


On April 17, Defense Minister Taro Kono instructed to forgo training in which multiple units gather from different SDF camps or bases or training in which more than half of base personnel participate while the state of emergency is in effect. GSDF training is scheduled to enter a full-fledged stage around June with multiple units participating. If the state of emergency is further extended, SDF readiness may deteriorate. 


On Jan. 20, 60 MSDF members of a P-3C patrol plane unit were dispatched to the Middle East for information gathering and anti-pirate operations. They were scheduled to be replaced with other members in April, but because the government of Djibouti in eastern Africa where the MSDF unit deploys restricts foreigners’ entering the country, their replacement has been delayed. The Defense Ministry is negotiating with the Djiboutian government the conditions under which the new MSDF members would be allowed to enter the country after a two-week quarantine.


Two senior GSDF officers are currently deployed to the headquarters of the Multinational Force and Observers on the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt to monitor the ceasefire between Israeli and Egyptian forces. They are slated to be replaced in April with other members, but due to the Egyptian government’s immigration restrictions, it remains uncertain when they can be replaced.


The coronavirus situation is also affecting the scheduled improvement of the national defense posture. A suitability survey in the Tohoku Region was scheduled for completion by April 30 in preparation for the site selection of Aegis Ashore, a ground-based missile interceptor system. This has been postponed until the end of May because employees of the company under contract to conduct the survey are required to telework. Moreover, the Defense Ministry aims to introduce the next generation fighter around the mid-2030s, but the virus situation is affecting the development project because both Japanese and American officials are unable to visit each other for discussions.

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