2011: Okinawa: On the Frontlines of a New Defense Buildup

Cultural News, 2011 February Issue / Japan Behind News

Cultural News touch icon redBy Motoaki Kamiura in Tokyo

Translated by Alan Gleason

In December 2010, the Naoto Kan administration announced a new defense policy that redefines Japan’s national defense strategy for the coming decade.

The most noteworthy aspect of the new strategy is the priority it gives to the Nansei Islands, which include Okinawa and extend southwest from Kyushu to Yonaguni, just east of Taiwan.

During the Cold War, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces (SDF) were concentrated in Hokkaido, the northernmost island and the one closest to the Soviet Union. Later, priority shifted to Kyushu, thought to be most vulnerable to attack from North Korea. Now, spurred by China’s military buildup, the Nansei/Okinawa region has become the primary focus of concern.

The National Defense Program Guidelines unveiled in December articulate a new policy of “dynamic defense capability” for the SDF. Until now, the SDF mission has been defined by the concept of “basic defense,” which called for an even distribution of SDF forces throughout Japan to be prepared to deal with an invasion or natural disaster in any part of the country.

“Dynamic defense,” on the other hand, requires that all SDF forces be readied for rapid deployment to the southwest, including the large number of troops still stationed in Hokkaido.

Public transportation networks could be used to move these troops south — including Shinkansen railway lines, which will soon extend all the way from Sapporo, Hokkaido, to Kagoshima in southern Kyushu, as well as expressways and car ferries.

Rapid mobilization of forces from up north is deemed necessary because the government lacks sufficient land for camps or training facilities for so many troops in Okinawa or Kyushu. It is also the preferred option in terms of cost and efficient use of personnel and equipment.

The plan also calls for reducing the number of tanks, heavy artillery and other equipment unsuitable for “dynamic” deployment, and shifting to more mobile weaponry mounted on armored vehicles and missiles.

This also means an expanded role for the Maritime SDF, which must provide transport and escort ships for carrying Ground SDF troops to the Nansei Islands. The Air SDF, meanwhile, will be expected to bolster its antiship missile capacity for attacking Chinese Navy ships in the event of invasive action in the East China Sea, and to intercept Chinese Air Force planes escorting the Navy ships.

Still, even these ambitious plans do not mean that the SDF actually anticipates going to war with China in the Nansei Islands or the East China Sea. Rather, the program is viewed as a deterrent, a bolstering of defense capability in the region to discourage any thoughts of attacking Japan that might occur to a more virulently anti-Japanese regime in China, should one come to power in the future.

By the same token, the shift toward “dynamic defense capability” in the southwest around Okinawa is not part of a larger Japanese strategy aimed at invading the Chinese mainland. Presumably China, too, knows that any such strategy would be utterly infeasible from a military standpoint.

Motoaki Kamiura is a Tokyo-based military analyst. He appears frequently on national television programs.

Alan Gleason is an editor, writer, and Japanese-English translator. He lives in Tokyo.

(Copyright: Cultural News, Inc.)

Los Angeles Times reports “Japanese troops train at Camp Pendleton for island defense” on February 20, 2011

Japanese troops from the Western Area Infantry Regiment are assaulting the green hills of Camp Pendleton in operation Iron Fist.

For a month, about 200 Japanese troops are training with Marines — leading to a “final exam” where together they will launch a mock amphibious assault against a common enemy.

“Both sides are teaching and learning from each other,” said Marine Col. Michael Hudson, commander of the 11th Marine Expeditionary Unit.