National

New operations center eyed for U.S. Air Force's Yokota base in western Tokyo

JIJI

The U.S. Air Force is considering building an Air and Space Operations Center (AOC) tasked with drawing up and implementing military operations at Yokota base in western Tokyo, U.S. military sources said.

The new AOC will support decision-making by the commander of the 5th Air Force headquartered at Yokota when the force is granted the right to command and control military operations under certain conditions in times of conflict, according to the sources.

If realized, the new AOC is expected to strengthen the 5th Air Force’s abilities to carry out operations and enable closer cooperation with the Self-Defense Force.

Currently, the 5th Air Force, under the wing of the U.S. Pacific Air Forces, does not have the right to control operations. It depends on the 613th AOC at the command of the PACAF in Hawaii for the planning and implementation of operations.

If, for example, a military conflict occurs between the United States and China, however, there is the possibility of communications between the 613th AOC and the 5th Air Force being blocked due to cyberattacks and electromagnetic attacks.

With possible military clashes with China and Russia in mind, the U.S. military has been scattering operational controls and increasing flexibility in the operations of its units. The planned establishment of the Yokota base AOC is believed to be part of the move.

One U.S. military source said that it is important for the 5th Air Force to maintain its abilities to fulfill goals of its missions without losing its functions even under emergency situations, such as disruption of contact with the PACAF command.

Under consideration is a plan to set up a small AOC at the Yokota base to help the 5th Air Force commander make decisions in collecting information and selecting attack targets, and grant control rights to enable timely operations of units in case of any emergencies, the source said.

Another military source said the AOC may be given the right to make decisions on responses to small-scale conflicts, without needing to wait for orders from Hawaii.

If an AOC is created at the Yokota base, cooperation with the SDF in real time would become easier, the source also said.

An AOC is especially critical in enhancing air defense and missile defense capabilities that require prompt decision-making, the source said.

In any case, the AOC at the Yokota base is expected to operate under the 613th AOC, informed sources said.

The United States has been promoting an integrated air and missile defense, or IAMD, initiative, which is designed to comprehensively operate ground, maritime and air defense systems of its military and allied countries in order to counter missile and other threats efficiently.

In its new defense guidelines released last December, the Japanese government also showed its plan to establish an IAMD system.

The envisaged AOC at the Yokota base may be aimed at helping the two countries build IAMD capabilities, pundits said.