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Japan Maritime Self Defence Force Operations

Unlike the North Atlantic Treaty, the US agreement with Japan is asymmetrical. That is, the US commitment to come to the defense of Japan in the event of aggression is not matched by a Japanese commitment to come to the defense of the United States in the case of aggression.34 Such a commitment, according to the official interpretation of Article 9, would be an exercise of the right of collective self-defense, which Japan as a sovereign nation enjoys, but it would also extend beyond the minimum required for self-defense, which is all that the Constitution allows.

Japan's direct contributions to the military aspects of the alliance, beyond maintaining the SDF, are limited to providing facilities for U.S. forces in Japan and financial support for the operations of those facilities, agreeing to attempt to develop the capability to patrol SLOC out to 1,000 nautical miles. In the early 1980s the US applied pressure on Japan to significantly increase its defense spending and to assume responsibility for sea lines of communication security out to 1,000 miles. In May 1981 Prime Minister Zenko Suzuki declared that Japan would take responsibility for defending sealanes up to 1,000 nautical miles from Japan. Prime Minister Yashuhiro Nakasone, while on a visit to the United States in 1983, articulated the notion of these sealanes as lying “between Guam and Tokyo and between the Strait of Taiwan and Osaka.”Defense of Japan 1992 does not mention this commitment, which frequently is interpreted differently by U.S. and Japanese officials.

Japan's closest neighbor, the ROK, the most vulnerable country to a Japanese incursion, is some 250 kilometers away at the narrowest distance across the Korea Strait. Vladivostok is about 900 kilometers from Sapporo on Hokkaido, and Shanghai is approximately 1,000 kilometers from Fukuoka on Kyushu.

This arc of committed sea lane protection does not even extend all the way through the vital Bashi Channel to the southern end of Taiwan and the northern entrance to the South China Sea. Over 85 percent of the oil Japan imports sails through these sea lanes.

1999 North Korean spy boats

When two North Korean spy boats were later discovered in Japanese territorial waters, Japanese Naval Forces fired their guns in anger for the first time in 54 years. Japan’s sensitivity to spy infiltrations and abductions are driving Tokyo’s probe. With some evidence indicating the ship is from North Korea; Tokyo will have to weigh the merits of raising the ship against the economic cost and the political fallout from Pyongyang that may follow. Beijing’s willingness to allow the recent probe probably indicates that it will also approve a salvage operation should Tokyo decide to attempt one. Moreover, it may also indicate that Beijing has no connection with the ship’s activities or doubts that any connection can be drawn. Should Tokyo receive permission and decide to conduct the salvage, look for North Korea to protest and threaten to cancel future talks.

Enduring Freedom / Iraqi Freedom

The Japanese Diet rapidly passed anti-terrorism legislation in November 2001 and dispatched destroyers and tankers to refuel Coalition forces in the Indian Ocean. In December 2004, the killing of two Japanese diplomats in Iraq caused over 80 percent of Japan’s public to demand a slowdown or outright halt in Tokyo’s commitment to send troops to Iraq. Oil tanker refueling support to coalition vessels in the Indian Ocean was cancelled when the Japanese Diet, the country’s legislature, could not extend legislative authorization for the mission. The mission in the Indian Ocean provided around 7 percent of the fuel for coalition vessels participating in Operation Enduring Freedom

For the first time since Japan's defeat in World War II, Japanese warships steamed into the Indian Ocean during a time of armed conflict, marking Japan's logistical support of the American-led war on terrorism. Japan's maritime self defense forces were dispatched to the Indian Ocean in 2001 to provide fuel for coalition warships in the region. Since 2001, Japan's Maritime Self-Defence Force has been refueling vessels, including those from Britain and the United States, in the Indian Ocean. The vessels were engaged in interdiction operations to prevent terrorist supplies reaching Afghanistan and the surrounding region.

The deployment was in line with the new Anti-Terrorism Special Measures Law drafted by the cabinet of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and passed by both houses of parliament on 29 October 2001. The law authorises Japan's Self Defence Forces (SDF) to provide non-combat support to the US-led coalition, including the transport of weapons and ammunition and the carrying and “if necessary” use of weapons.

On 08 November 2001 Japan approved plans to dispatch naval destroyers overseas as a step toward broader military support of U.S.-led attacks in Afghanistan, the first such move for Japanese forces in a war situation since World War Two. The ships from Japan's Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) set sail from Sasebo naval base on Japan's southwestern island of Kyushu and headed for the Indian Ocean. the ships being dispatched were the destroyers Kurama, and Kirisame, and a fleet support ship, the Hamana. The ships do not include any Aegis destroyers.

In late November 2001 three Japanese naval vessels left for the Indian Ocean to provide logistical support for the US-led military operations in Afghanistan. The 8,100-ton supply ship Towada left Kure base in Hiroshima Prefecture, shortly followed by the 5,650-ton minesweeper Uraga, which set sail from Yokosuka base in Kanagawa Prefecture. The the supply ship Towada with 130 troops, the minesweeper Uraga with 110 sailors and the destroyer Sawagiri with 200 sailors rendezvoused in the sea near Japan and headed to the Indian Ocean via the Malacca Strait.

In December 2002 the dispatch of a Maritime Self-Defense Force Aegis-equipped destroyer to the Indian Ocean posed the question of whether the destroyer's radar system can cover the area currently patrolled by helicopters from MSDF destroyers. At that time five helicopters based on the vessels, which were to give logistic support to antiterrorism activities conducted by U.S. and other forces, are patrolling the area. The 7,250-ton Aegis destroyer Kirishima replaced the 5,050-ton MSDF Hiei, which carries three helicopters.

On 22 January 2004 Japan's Aegis destroyer Myoukou departed from Maizuru base in Kyoto Prefecture to replace the destroyer Hiei as part of the government's antiterrorism campaign in the Arabian Sea. The dispatch of the 7,250-ton Myoukou was the third involving an Aegis warship since the 2001 enactment of the special measures law enabling Japan to provide logistical support for the United States-led war on terrorism in and near Afghanistan. There were three Japanese warships operating in the Arabian Sea. The dispatch was ordered "in line with a rotation," said KoichiFurusho, chief of staff of the Maritime Self-Defense Force. The Myoukou was accompanied by the fuel supply ship Hamana, left Sasebo base in west Japan's Nagasaki Prefecture and replace the Tokiwa in March. It was the fourth such mission for the 8,150-ton Hamana.

On 26 January 2004 Japan's defense chief, Shigeru Ishiba, ordered the dispatch of ground troops to Iraq for humanitarian duties and reconstruction work. The order came hours after the Japanese government cleared the final political obstacle to the dispatch of troops to Iraq. The decision meant Japanese soldiers would be operating in a combat theater for the first time since World War II. Japanese troops in Iraq can operate only in non-combat zones.

On 21 September 2005 Japan said it planned to extend the country's commitment to provide naval support to U.S. troops in Afghanistan. Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda made the announcement. The mission expires on November 1, but Mr. Hosoda said Japan's Parliament was expected to extend the mission for another year. Critics say the deployment violates Japan's pacifist constitution.

In late June 2006 Japanese transport trucks lugging military vehicles and equipment left Iraq, marking the start of Japan's withdrawal from the war-torn country. The military contingent was seen crossing into Kuwait Sunday after leaving the base at Samawa in the southern Iraqi province of Muthanna. Iraqi forces were scheduled to take over security from coalition forces in the province in July 2006. Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi said that Japan's 600 non-combat troops had fulfilled their humanitarian assignment and would leave Iraq.

In late October 2007 Japan refueled its last warship in support of coalition forces in Afghanistan before the mission expires later this week, in effect ending Tokyo's support of US-led operations there. Japanese ships were forced to withdraw from the Indian Ocean after the opposition Democratic party used its majority in the upper house to block an extension to the mission. During its six-year mission, Japan provided about 480,000 kiloliters of fuel in the Indian Ocean to coalition warships, including those from the US, Britain and Pakistan. In arguing for a renewal, Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda argued that pulling out would leave Japan — which depends on the Middle East for almost all of its oil imports — sidelined in the fight against global terrorism. The government introduced a new law to parliament earlier this month that would more strictly limit Japan's mission. The new bill would allow Japanese ships to refuel and supply water to ships on anti-terrorism patrols, but not to vessels involved in military or rescue operations.

On 11 January 2008 Japan's government forced through a bill -- Replenishment Support Special Measures Law -- extending the controversial refuelling mission is to resume its role in the war in Afghanistan. The move brought to an end months of political deadlock, and relieved friction with Washington over its commitment to the so-called war on terror. Japan's future assistance was been thrown into doubt since the ruling coalition lost control of Japan's upper house. Extending the law to allow the MSDF to continue to operate in the Indian Ocean was contentious. Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda's ruling coalition took the very rare step of using a two-thirds majority to override a rejection in the upper house of parliament. Such a step has only been used once before, more than 50 years ago. The approval is seen as a victory for Mr. Fukuda, who supports Japan's presence in Southeast Asia.

It was 90 years since the Imperial Japanese Navy sent a force of destroyers into the Mediterranean on escort duties to protect allied naval convoys.

Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ)

On 21 December 2001, Tokyo scrambled 20 patrol vessels and 14 planes in pursuit of a suspected North Korean Spy Boat that was cruising within Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The ship, which did not appear to be carrying any fishing gear, ignored repeated orders to stop. According to Japanese Coast Guard (JCG) officials, its patrol boats fired 13 warning shots from 20mm machine guns. On the evening of 22 December, the ship's stern caught fire, reportedly from a round fired by one of the coast guard patrol boats and came to halt 90 minutes later after it was surrounded by four Japanese vessels. While held at bay, the suspect crew used submachine guns to fire back at the patrol boats and injured two coast guard sailors. The boat sank abruptly at 2213 local time within China’s EEZ in approximately 90 meters (297 feet) of water.

This was the first time in 48 years that Japan's coastguard had directly attacked an illegally operating foreign ship. After much discussion and initial reluctance, Beijing gave Tokyo the approval to probe the sunken vessel. On 1 May, several Coast Guard Ships and two ships from a private salvage firm began what the JCG termed as a “criminal investigation” of the sunken vessel. Chinese ships were also in the area to monitor the probe. Divers wearing special suits were assigned to search both sides of the ship and its stern, while the manned submersible Hakuyo was used to search areas surrounding the vessel. Originally scheduled for six days, the search had to be extended into a seventh day because of sea conditions. Divers saw a gaping hole in the deck just below the bridge, raising speculation that the crew may have scuttled the boat to avoid capture. Overall, two bodies and four weapons (including what the JCG believes to be a RPG-7 rocket-propelled grenade launcher; built by the former Soviet Union), several cartridges and "an object that looks like a bullet" were recovered from the site. The corpses were badly decomposed and some bones were visible. Both bodies were male. According to one media source, the Japanese government, judging from physical evidence recovered so far, has concluded that the boat came from North Korea and it has begun considering punitive measures. Among sanctions being considered is a restriction on the port calls made periodically by North Korean ships in northern Japan (based on a report from the nationally circulated Sankei Shimbun, quoting government sources it did not identify).

China and Japan may be headed for a conflict over territorial claims and natural gas deposits in the East China Sea estimated to be 200 billion cubic meters—located near the line Japan asserts but China denies is the boundary between the two countries’ jurisdictions. 12 Nationalist sentiments run deep in both countries; this increases the risk that an accident or unexpected incident quickly would escalate into a full-blown confrontation. Such an incident could arise out of China’s increasingly frequent and aggressive military intrusions into Japanese waters and airspace. Since this dispute arose in the early 1970s, China has claimed the Japanese controlled Senkaku Islands (Diaoyutai in Chinese) and an economic exclusion zone (EEZ) that extends to the edge of the continental shelf, encroaching on Japanese territorial claims. A continuing pattern of intrusions by Chinese oil exploration and ocean research vessels, warships, and military aircraft into the contested areas and a contentious Chinese drilling operation feed this simmering dispute.

Chinese assertiveness and intrusions are a growing concern. In July 2004, Japanese forces intercepted Chinese navy and civilian survey vessels conducting operations within the Japanese EEZ, in possible violation of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) to which both countries are signatory. In November 2004, the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (MSDF) chased a Chinese Han-class nuclear submarine from Japanese territorial waters near the southern island of Okinawa. In September 2005, a Chinese Navy destroyer aimed its guns at a MSDF surveillance plane near the disputed waters and five other Chinese naval vessels were observed operating in the area. In addition, Chinese spy planes entered the disputed area on at least three occasions between September and October 2005. The increasing frequency and aggressiveness of these Chinese provocations could lead unexpectedly to a military confrontation with Japan, one of the United States’ strongest alliance partners—so that it would be difficult for the United States to avoid becoming a party to the conflict.

2004 Submarine Intrusion

On 10 November 2004 Japan's maritime forces were placed on a alert and tracked a submarine that apparently intruded into its territorial waters Wednesday morning. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiroyuki Hosoda said the foreign submarine headed back out into the open sea shortly after it was detected between Ishigaki and Miyako islands in Okinawa Prefecture. Mr. Hosoda said a Maritime Self Defense Force (P3C) aircraft was tracking the submarine to try to determine its origin and where it was heading. Suspicions immediately fell on China and North Korea. Quasi-official broadcaster NHK quotes Chinese Embassy officials as saying they had no information about whether the submarine might be from China.

Defense Agency Director General Yoshinori Ono said he invoked the Self-Defense Forces law to order the security action at 8:45 a.m., after getting approval from Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi. Ono told reporters that the P-3C aircraft demanded that the submarine surface and show its flag or leave Japanese waters, but Hosoda and the Defense Agency said later that this was not the case as the submarine had already entered open sea.

Japan's trade minister says he believes that a Chinese submarine, which Tokyo says intruded into Japanese waters last week, is linked to gas exploration by China in a remote island area claimed by both countries. Trade Minister Shoichi Nakagawa, appearing on a Fuji TV network program Sunday, added he believed that Chinese submarines have been moving in Japanese waters for some time. Japan on Friday demanded an apology from China. It claimed a Han-class nuclear submarine spent two hours in Japanese waters on Wednesday. Japan mobilized its maritime forces and chased the sub with destroyers and a patrol plane as it zigzagged submerged toward Chinese waters. China had not acknowledged the submarine, only saying it was investigating the Japanese claim.

The last time the MSDF action was ordered under the law was in March 1999, when two North Korean vessels approached the Noto Peninsula in the Sea of Japan. An order for maritime security action is usually issued to the SDF when it is deemed impossible or extremely difficult for the Japan Coast Guard to perform its task of securing maritime safety. The government this time skipped convening meetings of the Japanese Security Council and the Cabinet in taking the action under a swifter procedure allowed in the event that a submarine is detected in Japanese territorial waters.

Page last modified: 06-09-2021 15:33:45 ZULU