The Defense Agency plans to create a centralized command for the Ground Self-Defense Force and possibly abolish the regional-army system to improve command efficiency, according to agency sources.

The current GSDF formation of five regional armies, each under separate command, is based on Cold War assumptions of land invasions. To cope with the post-Cold War security situation and growing international terrorism, Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba has instructed officials to study a reformation to ensure mobility and quick response, the sources said.

To make way for the introduction of a costly missile defense system, the agency hopes to cut costs by unifying command within the GSDF and paring back on some conventional equipment.

The Ground, Air and Maritime branches of the Self-Defense Forces are scheduled to begin unifying operations by the end of fiscal 2005 and the joint chiefs of staff will be established with its head taking command of all forces.

Currently, the GSDF is divided into the Northern, Northeastern, Eastern, Middle and Western armies. Each army comes under the command of a lieutenant general.

By contrast, the Maritime Self-Defense Force is under the command of the head of the Self-Defense Fleet, a vice admiral, while the Air Self-Defense Force is led by the head of the Air Defense Command, a lieutenant general.

“It would be inefficient and against the purpose of the unified operation” if the GSDF maintains its decentralized command structure with the regional armies, a senior agency official said on condition of anonymity.

But scrapping the regional armies is expected to face opposition within the GSDF.

“It is rational for the GSDF, which is equipped for land invasions, to operate via regional armies,” said a senior GSDF officer who asked not to be named.

The current National Defense Plan Outline, completed in 1995, stipulates that the deployment of the GSDF around the country should be well-balanced in accordance with each region’s geographic characteristics, to be able to take defensive action swiftly and effectively in response to any invasion.

The government hopes to have a revised outline compiled by the end of the year.

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