Tokyo, Sept. 20 (Jiji Press)–Japan’s Defense Ministry is considering creating the post of joint commander that would allow centralized command of the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces and establishing a joint command center that supports the commander, sources familiar with its discussions said.
The move is aimed at enhancing the SDF’s capability to promptly respond to emergency situations by creating a structure that focuses on operating troops from its three branches, the sources said.
The ministry aims to outline details of the plan late this year in updates to three sets of the country’s three key defense documents.
Under the SDF’s current chain of command, the chief of staff at the ministry’s Joint Staff advises the prime minister and defense minister on security matters and receives orders from them and execute them.
The Joint Staff chief is supported by the Joint Staff Office that comprises uniformed officers from the Ground, Maritime and Air SDFs as well as some Defense Ministry bureaucrats, and operates troops and crafts plans.
The idea of newly creating the post of joint commander and a joint command center emerged after the SDF carried out large-scale disaster relief operations following the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami that hit mainly the Tohoku northeastern region.
At the time, in addition to taking command of the SDF, the Joint Staff chief was busy having to report to the prime minister’s office as well as coordinating with U.S. forces, considered too much of a burden for one person.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has proposed creating the post of joint commander and a joint command center to address such a situation.
In addition, Japan faces an increasingly severe security environment partly due to China’s intensified military pressure on Taiwan, as well as the need to strengthen defense in new areas such as space and cyberspace.
Those concerns and challenges have led to calls for a swift organizational change to allow the SDF to respond effectively to emergency situations.
Under the new command system, the joint commander would come under the Joint Staff chief and be in charge of commanding SDF troops, allowing the Joint Staff chief to concentrate on advising the prime minister and defense minister, the sources said.
The new joint command center is expected to take over the Joint Staff Office’s operational functions, the sources said.
Some senior ministry officials, however, think that the two roles of advising the prime minister and defense minister and executing their orders cannot be separated. Some point out that increasing the number of posts could hamper smooth command flows.
It is possible that a conclusion on the matter will not be made clear in updated defense documents, the sources said.