Location of initial earthquake and aftershocks. NASA graphic.

At approximately 2:50pm local time a series of powerful earthquakes hit the northeastern part of Japan. The strongest of the earthquakes has been measured at 8.9 on the Richter scale and was felt as far away as Beijing.The earthquakes, along with resulting tsunamis and fires have so far claimed at least 300 lives, with that number expected to exceed 1,000.

The Japanese government’s response to the earthquake that struck Miyagi Prefecture was exceptionally swift. Within an hour, eight fighter planes of the ASDF had been launched to do damage assessment, and the GSDF had received marching orders to move to the scene of the devastation. Within four hours, 300 aircraft and forty ships of the SDF were put in action. According to Kyodo, all ships docked at Yokosuka were ordered to sail north to Miyagi.

At least four nuclear power plants were located in the worst affected areas. Three were apparently shut down without incident. The coolant system of the fourth reactor, Fukushima Daiichi, was crippled during the earthquake and there are reports that pressure on the plant’s safety systems is twice the rated requirement. There are reports of elevated levels of radioactivity inside the plant control room, and a community evacuation is in progress. Of particular note is the movement of a special nuclear, chemical, and biological-trained GSDF company-sized unit to Fukushima Daiichi. This unit, which may be the Central or 101st NBC Protection Unit, is part of Japan’s rapid-response Central Readiness Force and is equipped with NBC protection vehicles and advanced personal protection gear.

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This part of Japan is considered the farthest from any conceivable military action, and as a result there are few Self Defense Force facilities and resources in the area. Matsushima Air Base, located just north of Sendai on Ishinomaki Bay, was “completely submerged” by tidal waves. According to the Asahi, 18 F-2 fighters were submerged by the wall of water, as well as T-4 jet trainers and U-125 search and rescue aircraft. 8,000 troops, likely the GSDF 6th Infantry Division, based at Otakineyama, are reportedly headed into the hardest-hit zones.

U.S. Forces in the area have not sustained casualties or damage. USS Blue Ridge, command ship for the U.S. 7th Fleet, had just docked the day before in Singapore and is reportedly taking on disaster relief supplies before it returns to Japan. The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan is en route to the area, as is the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit, embarked upon the USS Essex Amphibious Ready Group. Some 50 31st MEU personnel were scheduled to participate in a disaster relief exercise — along with personnel from the Self Defense Forces — in Indonesia beginning March 14th.


Update: Monday 3/14, 4:40 pm Japan Time. (From this point on, only military assets to be reported)


The Self Defense Forces are deploying 100,000 troops to the affected quake region. These troops will be drawn from all over Japan, including Kyushu and Hokkaido. 100,000 troops represents approximately 40% of the total strength of the Self Defense Forces. The Northeastern Army (approximate to a Western corps) is the designated headquarters for the relief effort. Technically much of the affected area is actually in the geographic area of responsibility of the Eastern Army, but the Eastern Army is headquartered in the heavily damaged city of Sendai.

In addition to the water damaged sustained at Matsushima Air Base, it has emerged that 300 base personnel who were on leave at the time of the tsunami are among the missing from surrounding communities.

Also, for the first time the SDF’s reserve forces are being mobilized, on a volunteer basis. Some 6,500 reservists have volunteered. Compared to other countries, the SDF has a small number of reservists, some 60,000 for a nation of 120,000,000.

81 dockworkers swept to sea aboard a ship during the tsunami were rescued by helicopters from the Maritime Self Defense Force. At the same time, GSDF helicopters airlifted school children stranded at a school in Watari.

MSDF S-70 helicopters are operating off the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan.

United States


33rd Rescue Squadron, 18th Wing, Kadena Air Base sending five HH-60 Pave Hawk search and rescue helicopters to Yokota Air Base.

2 SH-60 anti-submarine helicopters from Naval Air Facility Atsugi delivered 700 kg of rice and bread donated from Ebina City to Miyagi.


Aircraft Carrier USS Ronald Reagan has arrived on station, accompanied by USS Chancellorsville and USS PrebleRonald Reagan will act as a sea base for U.S. and Japanese helicopters involved in the relief effort. (Question: what happened to the fixed-wing planes? Did they go to Atsugi?) The Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group was exposed to radiation from mainland Japan at a rate of one month’s worth of naturally occurring radiation per hour.

In his March 11th briefing Secretary of Defense Gates alluded to a second aircraft carrier being available for the Japan mission if necessary.

Landing Ship, Dock USS Tortuga is picking up two HH-53 heavy lift helicopters from DET-1, HM-14 Squadron, based at Pohang, South Korea for transport to the earthquake zone.

Landing Helicopter Dock USS Essex is estimated to be in position off Japan no later than March 17th.

Destroyers Landing Ships, Dock USS Harpers Ferry and USS Germantown located in Phillipine Seat at the time of the earthquake, on the way to Japan now.

Destroyer USS Mustin departed Yokosuka Naval Base yesterday, to link up with the rest of the 7th Fleet off Japan.

7th Fleet Command Ship USS Blue Ridge embarked a Humanitarian Resistance/Disaster Relief Kit and left Singapore Saturday morning local time. Estimated to arrive off the coast of Japan late this week.


Update: Sunday 3/13, 5:30 pm Japan Time.


100,000 members of the Self Defense Forces are now being committed to relief and recovery efforts in the Tohoku region. Will be in position within two days.

Tsunami victim rescued at sea 15 kilometers off the coast of Japan by Maritime Self Defense Force destroyer.

Rest of the World

China: 15 member Chinese International Search and Rescue Team (again, with giant flag last seen in Haiti) arrived in Japan.

Germany: 40 man Heavy Urban Search and Rescue team.

Turkey: 2 teams totaling eight persons leaving for Japan.

United States: U.S. relief and assistance effort now officially Operation Tomodachi (“Friend”)

P-3C Orion Aircraft based in Japan doing damage assessment overflights.

CH-46E helicopters from Marine Corps Air Station Futenma shifting north to NAF Atsugi (Tokyo) to support relief efforts

USS Ronald Reagan arrived on station off coast of Miyagi Prefecture.

Amphibious ship USS Tortuga will onload 700 Japan Self-Defense Force personnel in Hokkaido (northern island) and deliver them to earthquake area.


Update: Saturday, 7:30 pm Japan Time.

20,000 JSDF are now deployed in support of relief efforts, along with 190 aircraft and 25 ships.

48 school kids were rescued by the Maritime Self Defense Force after 24 hours on a disabled ship.

66 person search team from Japan preparing to return from New Zealand to help in their home country.

United States

Aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and her carrier strike group are expected to arrive off the east coast of Honshu Island March 13, and is prepared to serve as an afloat refueling platform for the Japanese Self Defense Forces and other helicopters.

Status of USS Essex amphibious ready group unknown but known to be headed to the earthquake area.

Aircraft carrier USS George Washington, home ported in Yokosuka, Japan, was rumored to be docked at a maintenance pier when the earthquake hit, having spent much of the winter on joint US – South Korean and US – Japanese exercises. Whether or not it too will be deployed to assist in relief efforts is unknown at this point.

Destroyers USS McCampbell, USS Curtis Wilbur positioning to assist authorities with at-sea search, rescue, and recovery operations off Miyagi prefecture.

US Agency for International Development (USAID) sending 2 teams of 72 personnel, dogs, and 75 tons rescue equipment.

Rest of the World
68 Teams from 45 Countries are on standby: UN

Australia: sending 72 relief personnel on military aircraft.

China: International Rescue Team ready to deploy to Japan if asked.

New Zealand: sending 48 person urban search and rescue team.

Singapore: sending 5 person, 5 dog search team.

South Korea: sending 5 rescue workers and 2 search dogs. Prepared to send 120 more relief workers and three military transport aircraft if asked.

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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.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch