Japan to strengthen defense logistics in southwest islands as territorial tensions rise

Japan plans to add three transport ships to support troops deployed on remote southwestern islands in response to increasing incursions by the China Coast Guard, and a new law passed in China authorizing the coast guard to use lethal force against foreign ships.

Voice of America (VOA) Chinese language service reported that Japan’s government will equip the Ground Self-Defense Force (GDSF) with three ships for logistics support. It is the first time the GDSF has been provided with its own ships.

GDSF troops stationed on remote islands usually depend on the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) for supply and support logistics.

The new ships will be used to provide a stable supply of ammunition, fuel, and food to troops on the remote islands, including those stationed on Yonaguni Island, just 108 kilometers off Taiwan’s East Coast.

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In emergency situations, the ships will also be responsible for transporting the GDSF’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, Japanese government sources were reported saying by VOA and Kyodo.

The Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade was established in 2018, with a similar role to the US Marine Corps, and is responsible for defending and retaking remote islands in the event of an invasion.

“We need to improve our self-defense capabilities so that our control over the Senkakus will not be undermined by China”, a Defense Ministry official said, according to Kyodo.

Deployment of the ships is scheduled for 2024. The three ships will consist of one “medium sized” 2,000 ton ship, and two smaller, 400 ton vessels. These ships are more suited to the limited port and docking facilities on the small islands.

Due to their larger size, at around 8,000 tons, it is difficult for the MSDF’s transport ships to enter ports on the islands.

The immediate background to the decision to strengthen defense capability in the Senkaku Islands arc is a law passed in China January 22, explicitly authorizing the China Coast Guard to fire on foreign vessels in China’s waters.

The law came into effect February 1, and follows an increasing frequency of patrols around the Senkaku Islands by the China Coast Guard. China claims the islands, which they call the Diaoyu Islands, are part of their own territory.

The Maritime Police Law allows coast guard personnel to demolish structures built by other countries on Chinese-claimed reefs, and to board and inspect foreign vessels in waters claimed by China, Reuters reported in January.

US President Joe Biden’s administration recently confirmed a decades-long commitment to the defense of the islands under the 1951 Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security between the United States and Japan.

While the agreement commits Washington to defend Japan’s interests in the event of an armed attack, Japan believes that it needs to boost its own defense capabilities to safeguard the islands.

“As we cannot just rely on the United States, it is necessary to have our own resolve to defend (the islets)” a senior Defense Ministry official told Kyodo.

“The provision of the vessels to the GSDF also fits the U.S. strategy to operate agile units in what China calls the “first island chain,” stretching from the Japanese archipelago through Taiwan, the Philippines and on to Borneo,” Kyodo reported.

Cover picture: US Marines 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit and Japan Ground Self-Defense Force soldiers Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade Exercise Iron Fist 2020, Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California. US Marine Corps Photo.

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