Japan Shifts Defense Strategy to Meet New Threats

      December 14, 2010 11:59

      Japan has decided to shift its defense strategy for the first time in 40 years as it sees the main threat shifting from the former Soviet Union to China and North Korea. Tokyo is going to reorganize its military into mobile units capable of engaging in operations in the Pacific Ocean and countering North Korean missile threats.

      The Diet is expected to pass the revisions this week.

      The most notable change is the transformation of the Self-Defense Forces from a static to a more mobile military. The current defense strategy was put in place when Japan revised defense guidelines in 1976 based on the threat of a Soviet invasion. This stance was gradually revised following the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the latest changes make the shift complete.

      Now troops can be deployed in concentrated formations anywhere there is a threat against Japan. Japan has defined China's rising naval strength and North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missiles as its main threats.

      The ramifications are expected to be huge. Ground forces will be downsized while naval power will be enhanced. The 600 tanks in service will be reduced to 390; 600 artillery pieces will shrink to around 400; and 1,000 troops will also be cut. The remaining ground forces will be deployed on an island in southern Japan. At present, they are equally distributed throughout the country.

      But capabilities will be bolstered to deal with potential threats from China and North Korea. Forces will be concentrated on defending Japan's southwestern island chains stretching from southern tip of Kyushu Island to Taiwan, as well as the country's Pacific flank. The number of operable submarines will rise from 18 to 22. The SDF will no longer retire one sub a year and replace it with a new one, but retain more subs as new ones are commissioned into service.

      Around 2,000 troops will be deployed on the islands to the southwest. Japan will also speed up the deployment of its next-generation FX fighter jets and boost its three Patriot (PAC3) missile bases to six. It will equip all six of its Aegis destroyers with SM-3 missiles. At present, only four have the anti-ballistic missiles.

      The shift is worrying Japan's regional neighbors. The Chinese government has already voiced its concerns, and South Korea has reacted with surprise at a comment from Japanese Prime Minister Naoto Kan last week suggesting the possible dispatch of forces to the Korean Peninsula to rescue Japanese citizens in case of an emergency.

      Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshito Sengoku denied the comments on Monday, saying Seoul and Tokyo have never considered a role for the SDF, but the fallout from Kan's comments is expected to linger for some time.

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