Japan's Ministry of Defense accelerated efforts in 2015 to upgrade the Self-Defense Forces ability to repel attacks against the country's remote islands. The plan is aimed at deterring China, which has repeatedly intruded into Japanese waters in recent years. The ministry will set up a unit by the end of fiscal 2016 to train troops specialized in island defense. It will also create a joint headquarters near Tokyo with the U.S. military by March 2018 to oversee operations by the two countries' ground forces.
Japan has not had a Marine Corps since World War II, but this may be on the verge of changing. Although the affiliation and size of marine forces differ by country, a marine force can be generally explained as a military unit that integrally combines the various functions required for ground and maritime operations, with superior mobility and readiness. The defense of islands requires agile transportation and deployment of units under joint operation, and it is essential that ground, maritime, and air units closely collaborate in thwarting and obliterating invading troops. Depending on the situation, it may become necessary to recapture an island, so argue for the necessity of marine capabilities. On this point, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe expressed his view that, “With regard to the defense of islands, I do believe that we should discuss the necessity of Japan possessing amphibious operation capabilities."
In May 2013 Japan's main ruling party came up with main points of proposed changes to the nation's defense guidelines. It said changes were needed to better respond to heightened security challenges in the region. The Liberal Democratic Party said security should be increased around islands in southwestern Japan in the light of China's increased activities around the Senkaku Islands. Japan controls the islands in East China Sea but China and Taiwan both claim them. The LDP said the Self-Defense Forces should be able to carry out amphibious operations similar to those undertaken by US Marine Corps forces.
Asahi Shimbun reported 31 August 2010 that the Ministry of Defense was considering establishing an amphibious force from a Ground Self-Defense Force infantry Regiment, patterned on the US Marine Corps model. The rapid military modernization of Chinese military prompted the move, which aimedf to enhance the Nansei Island defense. Outline of the new defense plan will be drafted at the end of 2010 to come up with a policy strengthening the island defense. Every year since FY2010, the Western Army Infantry Regiment has conducted bilateral field training exercises with the U.S. Marine Corps, in order to practice the effective exercise of the combined firepower of the JGSDF, JMSDF, and JASDF, both before and after landing, in an island- based military operation.
The Nansei Islands are seen as a Self-Defense Force deployment blank zone. From Nagasaki (General Department, Kumamoto-shi) land from West towards Corps jurisdiction and Tsushima to Yonaguni Island is 1200 km North-South, East and West 900 km. In this territory there are about 2500 Islands. The Ground Forces residing among these are only the 15th Brigade on Okinawa Island and the JGSDF Tsushima Area Security Force on Tsushima. The remainder is the responsiblity of Western Army Infantry Regiment (Light) (WAiR) stationed in Sasebo City, Nagasaki prefecture.
The Ground Forces considered the reorganization to amphibious forces are usually part of the 8th Division (Kumamoto) responsible for southern Kyushu and or an infantry Regiment from the 15th Brigade. Approaching from the sea such as emergencies and disaster staffing in the land was occupied, usually in addition to the duties, Islands landfall, attempt, or thought to give the position for the subsequent forces ability.
The model is the U.S. Marine Corps. USS Pearl Harbor (LSD 52) opened its hatches to over 170 Japan Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF) service members, including 37 officers of the 8th Western Army, in support of Operation Iron Fist, 10 February 2007. Pearl Harbor Sailors and Camp Pendleton, Calif., Marines came together to illustrate the importance of teamwork to JGSDF soldiers, who put their training to good use during Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) and Combat Rubber Reconnaissance Craft (CRRC) launches at sea. The JGSDF had been training intensely with the Marines since the beginning of 2007. The troops performed numerous exercises preparing for this trip, from swim qualifications to days of survival instruction. The officers participated in Amphibious Staff Training, where they learned skills needed to take ground if necessary. The JGSDF is strictly a defensive force. They are simply training for the skills needed in case they have to protect their islands someday. Exercise Iron Fist is an annual three-week bi-lateral training event between the Marine Corps and JGSDF designed to increase the interoperability between the two services while aiding the Japanese in their continued development of amphibious capabilities.
Outline of the defense planning over the island defense came from the Cabinet decision in 2004 to position forces for new roles of the defence forces, such as meeting invasion on the Islands. This meant the conversion of the troop deployment from the Northern focus intended to counter an invasion from the former Soviet Union during the Cold War. China's modernization of military forces, such as landing ships and parachute troops, was working rapidly to alter the security environment.
A new outline drafted at the end of 2010 in the Ministry of Defense was expected to place island defense as one of the focus items. In late July 2010 Nagashima Akihisa, Parliamentary Secretary responsible for the new outline, noted Island Defense as an unmet need. There are US Marines stationed in Okinawa, but Ground Forces leaders indicate that the Southwest Islands need Self-Defense Force protection. The Defense Ministry executives also believe the US Marine Corps is focused on responding to emergencies in the Korean peninsula and Taiwan Strait, and shouldn't be about island defence.
Visiting Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa told the mayor of Japan's westernmost island town of Yonaguni near Taiwan that the government will positively study the possibility of deploying Ground Self-Defense Force troops there. In his talks with Yonaguni Mayor Shukichi Hokama, the defense minister said the government is planning to stipulate in its next midterm defense buildup plan to be compiled by the end of 2010 the GSDF deployment in an area covering the island.
With the aim of "practicing joint operational procedures in response to attacks on offshore islands and Japan–U.S. bilateral exercises at a remote location," for the first time the JSDF participated in a large-scale field training exercise, "Dawn Blitz," planned by the U.S. Third Fleet and the I Marine Expeditionary Force in June 2013. The key feature of the exercise is that the staff of the JGSDF, JMSDF and JASDF will form a single headquarters for joint commanding/staff activities and training in response to attacks on offshore islands. Consequently, the participating troops greatly differ from those that participated in the past training in the United States: three vessels (destroyers "Hyuga" and "Atago" and the transport ship "Shimokita") from the JMSDF; and Western Army Infantry Regiment (Light) and Western Army troops including AH-64D attack helicopters and CH-47JA transport helicopters from the JGSDF.
Despite controlling vast ocean territories, Japan had no significant amphibious units until it began training the marine force in 2012. Japan has gone from a standing start to having a serviceable amphibious capability in an astonishingly short time. US military planners were impressed by the Japanese marine force during their participation alongside U.S. forces in landing drills in California in 2013 during operation Dawn Blitz.
Japanese land, sea and air forces combined to simulate the recapture of a remote island on 19 May 2014, a small drill that nonetheless underscored the country's concerns about far-flung territory claimed by China. The first combined-services drill in Japan on retaking an island was a modest undertaking involving 1,300 personnel, two destroyers, two F-2 fighter jets, a carrier for troops and amphibious vehicles, a minesweeper and a handful of helicopters. Bobbing silently into a cove on rubber boats and wielding plastic training rifles, about 50 troops training for a new marine force landed on the uninhabited outcropping, the size of 30 soccer fields, 600 km (370 miles) northeast of a string of islands held by Japan but claimed by China. The joint exercise of the Self-Defense Forces was not aimed at any specific country, said Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga.
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