The government will ask commercial shipping firms to let Self-Defense Forces reservists use their vessels as military transports if remote Japanese islands have been invaded and need to be retaken, a new defense plan says.
The troop deployment plan, an outline of which was shown to Kyodo News, provides the basis for defense guidelines adopted in December by the Cabinet of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
It assumes Japan will act in line with the emergency deployment plan when taking back remote islands occupied by foreign troops in a broad area along the Nansei Island chain, stretching southwest from Kyushu and including Okinawa and the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea at the heart of bilateral tensions with China.
The Abe administration is planning to expand Japan’s lineup of military hardware, including amphibious armored vehicles and MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor transport aircraft, to brace for a possible invasion on one or more of the islands.
The plan assumes the SDF will likely face severe transport shortfalls in times of crisis, thus making private shipping indispensable to bringing SDF personnel and equipment to a war zone.
The civilian crews aboard commercial ships may also not be available due to opposition from their unions, as well as limits under the SDF law that only allow for troops to be deployed to potential combat areas.
The deployment plan was drawn up in 2012 by a task force of the Defense Ministry’s Joint Staff Office as guidelines for the defense of remote islands. The plan has not been made public.
The Ground Self-Defense Force presently has 31,000 reservists, while the Maritime Self-Defense Force has 700 and the Air Self-Defense Force has 600.
During the Gulf War in the early 1990s, the Cabinet of then-Prime Minister Toshiki Kaifu asked Japan Airlines to cooperate in transporting refugees from war-torn areas, but JAL rejected the request, citing its labor union’s opposition.
The Kaifu administration then chartered U.S. aircraft to transport the refugees.
The deployment plan says it would be hard to persuade labor unions to agree to let work in warlike conditions if an emergency breaks out.
Onodera, Hagel chat
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel held talks over the phone Saturday night.
The telephone talks were initially scheduled for Dec. 27 but canceled at the request of the United States.
The cancellation came after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Tokyo’s contentious war-related Yasukuni Shrine on Dec. 26, triggering protests from China and South Korea. Some Defense Ministry officials believed the cancellation was caused by the shrine visit.
During Saturday’s talks, Hagel expressed gratitude for the government’s efforts that led to approval by Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima for offshore fill work to start at the planned U.S. Marine Corps replacement base within the prefecture.