By Koda Yoji, former commander of the Maritime Self-Defense Force Fleet
U.S. military forces will deploy to Japan in great number
The key to preventing China’s reunification of Taiwan by force in the event of a contingency is U.S. military power, needless to say, but Japan also has an important role to play as an ally. In the event of a contingency in Taiwan, Japan would serve as the vanguard base for the U.S. military. Despite being a key player, however, Japan is completely unprepared.
In terms of military strategy, it is quite natural that if China’s People’s Liberation Army were to attack or land on Taiwan, or even if there were clear signs they were planning such an attack, the U.S. military would deploy forces in large number to Japan for deterrence purposes. The deployment would probably be on a scale beyond the expectations of most Japanese.
Allow me to forecast the size of the U.S. military deployment to Japan, based on the example of the Gulf War, which was triggered by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. I estimate the U.S. Navy would probably deploy five or six carrier groups and the U.S. Air Force would probably deploy 800 airplanes to Japan. In addition to the III Marine Expeditionary Force (III MEF) stationed in Okinawa, the I Marine Expeditionary Force (I MEF) in California would also be deployed for landing operations. Japan would be required to provide logistical support for these kinds of numbers. Initially, the U.S. forces would have their own food, fuel, and ammunition, but if there were a prolonged deployment, which started from the deterrence phase, the supply of these items (including temporary stockpiles) would become Japan’s duty.
This is a great deal of work. A U.S. carrier group is composed of one aircraft carrier and a number of escort vessels. If there were six carrier groups, there would be a total of 50 ships. If additional vessels were added, the total could be 100, with tens of thousands of crew members for the vessels and aircraft. The amount of food required to support such troops is considerable. In addition, Japan would have to provide vast amounts of fuel and ammunition. This cannot be done without prior consultations with the U.S., resolution of possible legal issues, and thinking through possible budgetary measures required.
Warships are mainly deployed offshore [and so would not strain Japan’s physical capacity]. U.S. Air Force aircraft, however, would number about 800 and could not be fully accommodated by SDF bases alone. Japan’s civilian airports would need to be used. In Japan, where the mere deployment of Osprey is met with public opposition, how would the government be able to gain public understanding [of the U.S. military’s using the nation’s commercial airports]? Are there any politicians or bureaucrats in Japan today who are seriously thinking about these things?
In war, advance preparations can make the difference between victory and defeat. The reason why the U.S. military was able to liberate Kuwait during the Gulf War was because America had established bases in neighboring countries and attacked after thoroughly preparing. The full range of logistical support to the U.S. forces would be critical for the defense of Taiwan. The U.S. has other friendly nations in East Asia, such as South Korea and the Philippines, but given the proximity of Japan and Taiwan, and the close relationship between Japan and the U.S, Japan is the only country that can play this important logistical role.
In this sense, whether it will be possible to protect the freedom of the Taiwanese people is in Japan’s hands. Japan should play this role not because the U.S. tells it to do so but because this is a matter that Japan, as an independent country, needs to address.
Moreover, this is not just about providing logistical support to the U.S. forces. It is the mission of the SDF to protect U.S. troops deployed around Japan from Chinese aggression. At the very least, defending the bases in Japan where U.S. forces are deployed and the waters surrounding Japan is to protect Japan’s territory, territorial waters, and the Japanese people. In other words, a Taiwan contingency is a Japanese contingency.
If Japan can facilitate the U.S. deployment of its forces to Japan, there is a possibility that China will be dissuaded from taking military action. Deterrence is effective. In other words, it is no exaggeration to say that whether or not China can be deterred depends on Japan. (Abridged)