The Defense Ministry is considering creating a new assault unit whose mission is to recapture remote Japanese islands that are vulnerable to foreign invasion, officials said.
The ministry’s plan, unveiled during a meeting of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, comes in response to repeated intrusions by Chinese vessels into waters near the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, the officials said.
The ministry expects the formation of the new unit to be included in the defense program outline, after assessing that existing forces are insufficient to protect remote islands, the officials said.
China has been increasing its maritime assertiveness, especially in relation to the Senkakus, which China calls Diaoyu and claims as its territory.
As part of its plan to bolster its defense of the Senkakus and other remote islands, the ministry is also proposing the use of commercial vessels and aircraft to speed up the deployment of Self-Defense Forces units in emergencies, the officials said.
Currently, the Ground Self-Defense Force Western Army Infantry Regiment based in Nagasaki Prefecture functions like the U.S. Marine Corps and is responsible for defending remote islands.
While the ministry plans to expand the existing remote island protection regiment to 680 members during the current fiscal year through next March, the formation of the new unit will further increase available forces, the officials said.
It is also envisioned that the new unit will conduct joint exercises with the U.S. Marines.
On Tuesday, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said it is necessary to study the possibility of giving Japanese military units the authorization to attack potential enemy bases. He was responding to proposals submitted by the LDP for strengthening the nation’s defense capabilities with an eye toward North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.
“We need to study (the possibility) because it is an important matter,” Abe said at a meeting with LDP lawmakers. The proposals were submitted before the government compiles its long-term defense program outline by the end of this year.
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, however, expressed caution.
“While it will not pose any legal problems if Japan has the capability to attack an enemy base, various discussions are necessary” to gain support from neighboring countries, he told a news conference the same day.
The proposals covered boosting Japan’s ability to defend its remote islands in the wake of recent Chinese maritime encroachments, touching on the need to equip the SDF with U.S. MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft and to improve the capabilities of its amphibious forces.
In January, a Chinese warship locked its weapon-targeting radar on a Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer in the East China Sea. Another Chinese warship did likewise the same month with an MSDF helicopter. Japan has also scrambled fighter jets in response to Chinese aircraft approaching Japanese airspace.
The proposals included the introduction of regular joint exercises involving police and coast guard units to prepare for possible terrorist attacks against nuclear power plants and allowing Japan to exercise the right to collective self-defense.