Japan has announced a series of initiatives to bolster the Self Defense Forces’ ability to respond to new and potential threats. The initiatives span from cyber to amphibious warfare and fill gaps in existing capability.
TV Asahi has broken the news that the Self Defense Forces plan on buying four U.S.-made AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles for the Ground Self Defense Forces. The vehicles will cost a total of ¥3,000,000,000, or roughly $37.5 million USD.
Built by FMC Corporation in the 1980s, the AAV-7 can carry up to 21 combat-equipped troops over land or water. Armament is either a Mk.19 automatic grenade launcher or M2 .50 caliber machine gun. The AAVs would be used to carry troops of the Western Army Infantry Regiment, the GSDF’s amphibious-trained unit. The AAVs would be embarked on the MSDF’s Oosumi-class amphibious landing vessels and then depart for the shore via the ship’s well deck.
The AAVs are a response to Japan’s worry that armed foreign activists will take over a remote Japanese island and proof difficult to dislodge. This contingency has been a part of Japan’s defense white paper for years, and predates the recent landing of Hong Kong and Chinese activists on the Senkaku islands. Japan seems determined to acquire the capability to dislodge such a group without building up an amphibious force that would appear provocative.
The legality of having amphibious vehicles — which are generally considered offensive-oriented — is an issue in Japan. According to the Sankei Shimbun the government was never in favor of buying the vehicles. It quoted an official in the Ministry of Defense as saying that although elements of the public believe there is no reason to have such vehicles, if one works under the assumption that the islands were seized, then amphibious landing craft are indispensable.
The AAV-7 has been out of production for decades, so it’s possible that the SDF vehicles will be drawn from surplus U.S. Marine Corps stocks and refurbished.
In other news, Japan has asked the United States to base Global Hawk long-range reconnaissance drones in the region where they can cover the Senkaku islands. The idea of having large patrol drones has been studied for the past year, and apparently Japan has decided that it’s a capability worth pursuing. This further implies that a Japanese Global Hawk purchase is imminent — that is, if the money can be found. Whether or not the United States — which is loathe to get involved in Japan’s territorial disputes — would use these drones to patrol disputed areas is another matter.
Finally, according to the Chosun Ilbo, Japan will also create a new cyberterrorism unit within the Ministry of Defense with 100 people to deal with Internet-based threats from abroad.
Thanks to Mike Yeo at The Base Leg and James Simpson for translation.
A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
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