As it cranks up operations in the East China Sea to counter a growing Chinese naval presence, the Maritime Self-Defense Force wants to buy its first oil tanker to carry fuel to Okinawa, two sources familiar with plan said.
The MSDF needs a tanker able to carry 300,000 barrels of fuel to the U.S. Navy’s White Beach facility in Uruma, where it stores fuel for warships that patrol the region.
The plan will be included in a defense review outlining equipment procurement for the five-year period beginning April 2019, the sources said.
“It takes too much time for ships to return to their base in Kyushu for refueling so more are stopping in Okinawa instead,” said one of the sources, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to talk to the media.
Operations in the East China Sea, where Japan and China are locked in a territorial dispute over the ownership of a group of islets claimed as the Senkakus by Tokyo, Diaoyu by Beijing and Tiaoyutai by Taiwan, are intensifying as China’s military strength there grows.
“Activity at White Beach has increased by three to four times, but there isn’t enough space to expand capacity,” said the other source, who had just returned from a visit there.
The White Beach facility is currently supplied by commercial shippers who usually take two months to complete deliveries once a contract is signed. Management of the fuel dump, however, has become difficult as the pace of naval operations increase, making it more difficult for the MSDF to forecast future demand.
The tanker is expected to cost “several tens of billions of yen” and will have a crew of up to 20 sailors, the sources said.
A spokesman at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo declined to comment.