The Defense Ministry will explain its plans to boost the amphibious and pre-emptive strike capabilities of the Self-Defense Forces in its interim revision of Japan’s long-term defense policy, ministry sources said Sunday.
The move underscores the focus the ministry is putting on defending the nation’s outlying islands as tensions with China continue to simmer over the Senkaku Islands dispute.
The interim report for revising the National Defense Program Guidelines drafted by the former government led by the Democratic Party of Japan is expected to be disclosed by the end of the month after Sunday’s House of Councilors election, the sources said.
The SDF currently does not have a military branch equivalent to the U.S. Marine Corps. SDF personnel are mainly tasked with landing on enemy-controlled terrain by air or sea ahead of other forces as part of Japan’s exclusively defense-oriented posture.
The ministry plans to send Senior Vice Minister Akinori Eto to the United States at the end of this month to consult with U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter on the progress Japan has made in reviewing the long-term defense policy, the sources said.
The move may draw a sharp reaction from China because acquiring amphibious warfare capability could be seen as preparations for a contingency on the Senkaku Islands, which are also claimed by Taiwan.
The only SDF unit that has been assigned a marine role is the Western Army Infantry Regiment of the Ground Self-Defense Force. But in the future, a new amphibious unit would be created by combining elements of the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces, according to the sources.
By practicing with U.S. Marine elements, such a unit would strengthen the Japanese military’s ability to retake captured islands.
The ministry is also likely to consider acquiring aircraft that can transport troops without the need for airstrips, such as the controversial MV-22 Osprey used by the U.S. Marines. The tilt-rotor Osprey takes off and lands like a helicopter but can cruise like a fixed-wing airplane.
Amphibious vehicles would also be considered, the sources said.
The New National Defense Program Guidelines are expected to be finalized in December after being deliberated by the ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner New Komeito. The office of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will also play a central role.
The interim report would also spell out plans “to consider acquiring” pre-emptive strike capability to prevent ballistic missile attacks and develop combat robots that can be converted for use in disaster-relief operations.
The long-term national defense policy was last revised in December 2010, when the Democratic Party of Japan was in power. Abe’s government, which took office in December, decided to freeze the current defense policy the following month and formulate a new one by the end of this year.