Kyodo has a report on plans to install ground troops on the Nansei islands, and how such garrisons may resemble existing GSDF garrisons for Tsushima and northern Hokkaido.
The ministry is eyeing reinforcing surveillance around Japan’s western border as the Self-Defense Forces is only sparsely dispatched in areas to the west of Okinawa’s main island, but the move is likely to draw protests from China and Taiwan as the units would be placed close to islands disputed by the three sides.
The plan involves deploying several hundred GSDF members in charge of border security to Miyako and Ishigaki islands and about 100 members for coastal monitoring to Yonaguni Island in stages, the officials said.
Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa has already expressed his intention to seek budget allocations in fiscal 2011 starting next April for conducting surveys with a view to deploying the GSDF in the Sakishima island chain in southwestern Okinawa Prefecture. (Link)
According to the ministry officials, the border security units considered for dispatch to Miyako and Ishigaki islands are envisioned to be similar to the 300-strong GSDF Tsushima Area Security Force in Nagasaki Prefecture, whose main duties include coastal monitoring and initial response to invasion by armed guerrillas.
As for the coastal monitoring unit to be sent to Yonaguni Island, Japan’s westernmost territory, it will be modeled on the GSDF’s 301st Coast Observation Unit, made up of about 100 members, in Wakkanai, Hokkaido, the officials said.
The 301st Coast Observation Unit uses radars and wiretapping devices to monitor vessels navigating in the Soya strait between Japan and Russia’s Sakhalin.
In light of possible protests by neighboring countries, the ministry is thinking of first dispatching a lightly-armed unit to Yonaguni Island and then gradually deploying mainly infantry to Miyako and Ishigaki islands, according to the officials.
The Ground Self Defense Forces build specific units for watching territorial hot spots, tailoring them to specific missions. The unit mentioned in the article, the 301st Coast Observation Unit, is based in the northernmost tip of Japan, facing the Russian-held southern Kurile Islands/Northern Territories, of which Japan contests Russian sovereignty. According to this article (jp), the mission of the 301st is restricted to sea surveillance, and the 301st has no active defense capability. With the end of the Cold War the threat from the Soviet Union/Russia has been greatly diminished. The unit could probably be disbanded altogether, except that maintaining it signals that Japan does not consider the issue of the Northern Territories (i.e. Russia’s ownership of them) closed.
On the other end of the spectrum, Japanese sovereignty over the Tsushima Islands is contested by South Korea, which refers to it as Daemado. Apparently concerned that North or South Korea may attempt a takeover of the islands, the Tsushima Area Security Force is more muscular, capable of actively resisting an attack.
What’s in store for the Nansei islands? It depends. It appears that the Yonaguni garrison will be more like the 301st Coastal Observation Unit, with a dedicated passive reconnaissance mission. On the other hand, larger islands such as Miyako and Ishigaki will apparently be getting infantry garrisons. An improvement over the existing situation for sure. Nevertheless, a defense force comprised of infantry in the age of missiles seems geared more towards an “invasion” by activists from neighboring countries than an all-out invasion.
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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