SDF Joint Staff urged to fully assume troop operation command role

JIJI

The Joint Staff of the Self-Defense Forces should be solely in charge of troop operations, a role currently divided between the top body of uniformed officers and a Defense Ministry unit made up of civilian officials, a draft SDF reform report says.

The report, by a panel under the Defense Ministry, also proposed integrating the ministry’s defense equipment procurement divisions and the three branches of the SDF — ground, air and maritime. The report will be submitted to Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Aug. 30.

The ministry’s Operational Policy Bureau participates in the operations of SDF units to ensure civilian control. But critics say the divided authorities complicate the command system and slow the distribution of information at times of emergency.

The panel called for separating operations-related sections of the SDF from the bureau and transferring them to the Joint Staff. It also proposed establishment of a special coordination body under the defense minister to handle emergencies.

At present, the ministry and each of the three SDF branches have their own unit to procure hardware, such as tanks and fighter jets. These should be integrated into a single entity, the panel said, proposing discussions to create a special procurement agency under the ministry.

A decision was made to review the SDF operation and hardware procurement entities during Liberal Democratic Party Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda’s one-year stint from 2007.

But the decision was canceled by the Democratic Party of Japan-led government that ousted the LDP from power in 2009. The DPJ argued such moves would weaken civilian control of the SDF.

The report stopped short of setting a time frame for carrying out the organizational changes, apparently due to concerns about their effect on both military brass and civilian officials, sources said.

The panel also proposed creating a new post of deputy defense minister, who would serve as the top liaison and coordinator with other countries, as early as fiscal 2014.