The SDF arrive in Djibouti in 2009. Plans for the base were already being cemented that year.

The SDF arrive in Djibouti in 2009. Plans for the base were already being cemented that year. (Source: AP, via Sulekha)

Following the announcement that the SDF’s first overseas forward deployment base will be in operation from June 1st, the Yomiuri has provided further details on its English site.The first article, a translation and elaboration of the article I posted yesterday states that:

About 150 members of the Maritime Self-Defense and Ground Self-Defense forces, plus reinforcements of about 20 personnel, will be stationed at the base. The SDF will be responsible for security at the facility, government officials said.

In my reply to Gray on the previous post, I mentioned that I was concerned about the SDF’s lack of a true test of force protection – the confirmation it will be responsible for security at the small air base makes it even more important that the SDF work harder in this area.

A gymnasium large enough for SDF personnel to play futsal and other sports also has been built, according to the officials.

A senior Defense Ministry official said the facility is “intended to be used so we can conduct our activities in the region for about 10 years.”

I’m assuming that the 10 year plan is little more than speculation – the SDF’s deployment depends on future Diet and public support, 10 years would be an unprecedented period of commitment from Japan but it is not outside the realm of possibility.

The new facility, built in line with the Antipiracy Countermeasures Law that was enacted in 2009, has “residential properties”–unlike conventional SDF camps abroad–that are hooked up to local utilities such as electricity and water supplies, according to the government officials.

SDF units previously dispatched to such countries as Cambodia and Iraq stayed no longer than two to three years. On those missions, the SDF units did not use local infrastructure, but instead provided their own electricity and water.

The use of host nation utilities is one sign of the permanence of this base, although there are no doubt SDF-controlled redundancies in case of grid shortages.

The base will serve as a relay point for SDF supplies and personnel, reducing the need to send transport aircraft whenever SDF personnel are dispatched on missions abroad, they said.

The government is scheduled to hold an opening ceremony for the base in Djibouti in late June, and plans to invite President Ismail Omar Guelleh.

Having a forward operating base is essential for reducing logistical pressure at a time when much of the SDF’s airpower has been diverted to the disaster-struck domestic North. It also gives Japan the option of a layover and refueling point of its own in the event of future international disaster relief dispatches like the current ongoing aid to Haiti.

The second article hints at the bureaucratic and political decision-making at work, as well as the significance of the move as part of greater trends :

“Times have changed beyond recognition,” a senior official of the Defense Ministry said, recalling the time when sending SDF personnel overseas was widely opposed.


The opening of the nation’s first long-term overseas SDF base reflects changes in the security environment surrounding the SDF.

Djibouti, located on the Horn of Africa, is on the front line of the global fight against terrorism.

A senior Foreign Ministry official emphasized the opening of the base will serve the best interests of the nation.

“[Setting up the base] will make it easier [for the SDF] to cooperate with the U.S. forces, which emphasize counterterrorism operations,” he said. “And there’s rising demand for PKO in Africa and the Middle East. Being able to swiftly deploy SDF forces to trouble spots can contribute to [the security of] neighboring nations.”


Another senior official of the Foreign Ministry said, “[Such an international contribution] will help win broad support for Japan’s bid to become a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.” Japan needs the support of Africa’s 53 nations to realize reform of the council.

The government’s interpretation of the Constitution makes it impossible for the nation to exercise the right to collective self-defense and restricts SDF activities overseas. However, Japan’s efforts to contribute to world peace should boost the SDF’s international reputation.

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch