U.S. forces in Japan are set to establish a new command for the U.S. Army’s ballistic missile defense unit in the Asian country, and have started stationing personnel, it has been learned.
The move is apparently aimed at countering threats from North Korea, which still holds ballistic missiles, as well as from China, which is moving to deploy missiles capable of reaching the U.S. mainland and U.S. military bases in Japan.
A ceremony to mark the formation of the new command at the Army’s Sagami General Depot in the city of Sagamihara, Kanagawa Prefecture, will take place shortly.
According to sources in the Japanese Defense Ministry and U.S. Forces Japan, the personnel for the new command are assigned to the U.S. military’s 38th Air Defense Artillery Brigade. They began activities in Japan on Oct. 16.
The Defense Ministry notified the Sagamihara Municipal Government on Sept. 28 of the planned creation of the new ballistic missile defense command and personnel stationing.
A Sagamihara municipal official said, “It’s very regrettable that the notification was made suddenly without prior consultations.
“It’s questionable that such a command will be set up at the Sagami General Depot, which is in charge of logistics for the U.S. Army,” the official said, adding that the city will seek detailed explanations from the Defense Ministry and the Foreign Ministry.
A Defense Ministry official said, “In light of promoting quick reaction capability, the command will help strengthen the deterrent power and coping abilities of the Japan-U.S. alliance, and contribute to Japan’s national defense and stability in the Asia-Pacific region.”
“We’ll provide as much information about the command as we can,” the official added.
The new command will likely be in charge of directing operations of the Army’s X-band radar units, which are deployed in the city of Tsugaru in Aomori Prefecture and the city of Kyotango in Kyoto Prefecture.
A total of 115 personnel will be deployed to the command in stages within six to 12 months. They will use existing facilities, rather than bringing new equipment.
According to officials of U.S. Forces Japan the new command will come under the control of the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command, which is based in Hawaii.
By setting up the new front-line command in Japan, the United States apparently aims to be ready to make quicker decisions regarding intercepting missiles while signaling its determination to thwart threats from North Korea and China.
The command is expected to work with a cutting-edge Aegis destroyer within the U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet that is deployed to the Yokosuka base in Kanagawa.
It may also share information with Self-Defense Forces units that will operate the Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system planned to be deployed by the Defense Ministry in Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures.
The launch of the command is said to be unconnected with the realignment of U.S. Forces Japan.