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Japan rushes to improve SDF capabilities to rapidly deploy to remote islands

  • August 27, 2021
  • , Nikkei , p. 4
  • JMH Translation

In his speech marking the 100th anniversary of the Chinese Communist Party on July 1, Chinese leader Xi Jinping called China’s reunification with Taiwan a historic mission. If China clashes with the U.S. over Taiwan, the Senkaku Islands (Okinawa Prefecture) could become a battlefield.

 

Once occupied by an adversary, remote islands are hard to win back. Missiles and radars deployed by the enemy to defend the surrounding sky and sea would make it extremely difficult for the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to approach the islands. To prevent such a contingency, the SDF must present a strong posture that will convince the enemy that attempting occupation of the remote islands will cause them massive casualties.

 

Japan’s facilities are insufficient 

 

Japan’s preparations in this regard are far from perfect, however. Protecting the Nansei Islands presents a unique challenge to the SDF, especially because the islands are scattered over a vast ocean area as large as 1,000 kilometers.

 

The SDF lacks sufficient port facilities from which to transport personnel and weaponry to the front. The Sakishima Islands, the closest islets from the Senkakus, have just two ports—the Port of Hirara on Miyakojima Island and the Port of Ishigaki on Ishigaki Island—that are suitable for anchoring the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s large destroyers and transporters.

 

There is only one runway in Okinawa, at Naha Airport, that is longer than 2,400 meters and capable of accommodating Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) fighter jets. To prevent enemy aircraft from entering the skies above the Nansei Islands, the ASDF needs to be able to sustain flight in the area throughout the year.

 

“Swift deployment of the GSDF to the Nansei Islands is the key to deterrence,” says GSDF Chief of Staff Yoshida Yoshihide, who emphasized the importance of improving the SDF’s mobility and logistics.

 

The first step will be to strengthen paratrooper units in charge of initial defense of the islands and the Nagasaki-based specialized amphibious task force.

 

Although Article 5 of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty stipulates the U.S. obligation to defend Japan, the SDF will be solely responsible for defending Japan’s territory until the U.S. Congress approves deployment of its troops. The SDF needs to be able to dispatch aircraft and swiftly deploy to the Nansei Islands to deter the enemy.

 

Currently, the MOD is in negotiations with local communities in Kyushu, where it hopes to deploy Osprey for transporting the amphibious rapid deployment brigade as well as advanced stealth fighter F-35Bs that land and take off from the destroyers.

 

To further enhance Japan’s deterrence capability, the ministry also plans to make improvements to “Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Guided Missiles,” domestically developed long-range missiles, and mount them on the SDF vessels and fighters. Having long-range missile capabilities will be an effective deterrence against an adversary.

 

These goals are not expected to be achieved until the mid-2020s, however. It would take even longer if the planned development of equipment or the negotiations with the local communities stalled. (Abridged)

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