In major shake-up, Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force gets centralized command amid regional tensions

Kyodo

The Ground Self-Defense Force underwent its biggest organizational shake-up Tuesday, with command streamlined for flexible nationwide operations and the creation of amphibious forces tasked with defending remote islands.

The launch of the Ground Component Command to provide unified command over regional armies and the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, akin to the U.S. Marines, came as Tokyo seeks to beef up defenses against North Korea’s nuclear arms and missile programs and China’s maritime assertiveness.

“We are expecting more situations in which the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces have to work together to rapidly respond at a nationwide level against ballistic missile launches, attacks on islands and major disasters,” Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said at a news conference, emphasizing the role of the Ground Component Command in such scenarios.

A senior GSDF member said earlier that establishing a central command headquarters was a “deep desire” of the organization, which was established as part of the Self-Defense Forces in 1954.

Unlike the air and maritime branches of the SDF, the GSDF had no central headquarters to control its units across five regional armies, each operating under commanding generals. Therefore, orders had to be issued to each regional army to mobilize its divisions and brigades.

The GSDF’s command structure remained decentralized amid bitter memories of the Imperial Japanese Army’s intervention in politics and its role in wartime military aggression, some political experts say.

But a tougher regional security environment pushed the government to launch the Ground Component Command under its medium-term defense buildup plan approved in 2013. The command center will be headquartered at the GSDF’s Camp Asaka in Tokyo.

With all SDF branches now having central commands, the Defense Ministry expects to see smoother joint operations between the services. The new command is also expected to facilitate communication with the U.S. military in Japan.

The GSDF’s first full-scale amphibious operations unit — the other highlight of the reorganization — launched with around 2,100 members mainly drawn from the Western Army’s infantry regiment stationed at Camp Ainoura in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture.

The GSDF amphibious brigade is tasked with retaking islands, stretching southwest from Kyushu to Taiwan, if they are illegally occupied. The isles include Miyako Island, which is about 210 km from the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea that are claimed by China, which calls them the Diaoyu. Chinese government vessels have repeatedly entered territorial waters around the islands, creating tension.

But the amphibious brigade still appears to be a fledgling unit as uncertainty remains over the planned deployment of Osprey aircraft at Saga airport, which will play a key role in the transportation of troops.

The Ground Component Command will be headed by Lt. Gen. Shigeru Kobayashi, who formerly led the GSDF’s Central Readiness Force, and the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade by Maj. Gen. Shinichi Aoki, former deputy chief of staff of the Western Army.