The Self-Defense Forces on Monday set up the Joint Staff Office to integrate the operations of the Air, Maritime and Ground branches, with GSDF Gen. Hajime Massaki assuming the post of Joint Staff chief in a ceremony held at the Defense Agency in Tokyo.

Massaki, 61, becomes the first head of an integrated command in the SDF’s 51-year history.

The office was created to allow the SDF to better handle missions that will include ballistic missile defense and large-scale disaster relief.

In a speech to senior joint staff officers later the same day, Massaki stressed there is a long way to go before the three forces are fully integrated. In the past, the heads of each branch of the SDF coordinated separately with the Defense Agency director general.

“We are now taking the first step toward the joint operation system in both name and substance today, with the establishment of the Joint Staff Office,” Massaki told senior office members in the agency’s main auditorium.

“But the road ahead toward integration is never easy, as is seen in examples of other countries.”

To establish defenses capable of countering ballistic missiles, the MSDF and ASDF need to integrate their computer and communications networks. Integration of units is also needed to ensure quick and effective deployment of SDF units for disaster relief, officers said, naming some of the challenges that lie ahead.

Under the Joint Staff Office, the chief will put together and head a special joint task force comprising units from the MSDF, ASDF and GSDF when needed.

Massaki, former chief of staff of the GSDF, previously served as chairman of the SDF Joint Staff Council, which was replaced Monday by the Joint Staff Office.

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