The Defense Ministry plans to procure amphibious landing craft for the Ground Self-Defense Force for the first time and will seek about ¥3 billion in fiscal 2013 appropriations to obtain four vehicles, ministry sources said.
The plan is aimed at strengthening Japan’s defense capabilities at places like the Nansei Islands in the East China Sea, where China continues to expand its maritime activities.
The move comes at a time when territorial disputes with South Korea and China, including over the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, have generated heat on the diplomatic front.
The ministry appears to be using the visit of South Korean President Lee Myung Bak to Dokdo, the group of disputed islets Japan calls Takeshima, as well as the landing of Hong Kong activists on the Senkakus earlier this month, as a springboard to raise its defensive equipment and capabilities, political observers said.
But there remains a legal hurdle to deploying amphibious vehicles because they are designed for offensive purposes. Currently, if the GSDF enters a “conflict,” it requires the prime minister to issue an order to mobilize the Self-Defense Forces after gaining Diet approval, legal experts said.
The SDF are bound by extremely restrictive rules on weapons use except when defending the nation from armed attack or other acts of aggression by a foreign country.
The ministry plans to get four vehicles, similar to those used by the U.S. Marine Corps, next fiscal year and hopes to add more.
The four vehicles are expected to be deployed to the GSDF’s Western Army Infantry Regiment based in Nagasaki Prefecture, which is charged with defending Kyushu and Okinawa.