The Defense Ministry is considering increasing the size of the Ground Self-Defense Force by 13,000 members to improve its ability to deal with the fluid security situation in East Asia, international terrorism and disasters, according to sources in the ministry and the Self-Defense Forces.
The ministry is hoping to incorporate the plan in the new national defense program outline to be compiled at the end of the year for implementation next fiscal year, the sources said Sunday. It would be the first increase in GSDF personnel since fiscal 1972.
Analysts say, however, the plan may not be welcomed by the government because of the added costs during a period of tight fiscal conditions.
In addition, critics are likely to call attention to the fact that despite the current approved capacity of 155,000 personnel, the GSDF actually has only around 140,000 members.
The plan would also run counter to efforts by other major countries to reduce ground forces and place more emphasis on naval and air forces to prevent enemy invasions.
The ministry is considering the matter in response to a request from the Ground Staff Office, which believes that an increase in GSDF personnel is necessary to reinforce the defense of southwestern Japanese islands as the Chinese Navy becomes more active in the area, the sources said.
The idea is linked to the GSDF’s plan to increase troop deployments to islands in Okinawa Prefecture — where defensive readiness is considered weak — to deal with contingencies related to the Senkaku Islands, which are controlled by Japan but claimed by China and Taiwan.
The current GSDF deployment on Okinawa Island itself involves around 2,000 personnel, but there are initiatives calling for 20,000 troops to be deployed in the area, including smaller islands, by 2020, according to the sources.
The Ground Staff Office has also cited the need to improve preparedness for simultaneous terrorist or Internet attacks targeting important facilities in the country, the sources said.
It is likewise eyeing greater participation in U.N. peacekeeping operations as well as increased opportunities for the GSDF to take part in disaster relief missions, they said.
The GSDF last increased its troop strength — by 1,000 — to 180,000 in fiscal 1972, according to the Defense Ministry. The number has been declining steadily since fiscal 1996.
Defense analysts say that because the nature of assumed “grave threats” facing Japan has shifted in recent years from landings on main islands to missile attacks and localized battles on remote islands, there have been persistent calls for the GSDF to reduce its strength.
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