Japan will allow Self-Defense Force to refuel, arm US jet fighters

TOKYO — The Japanese government will likely expand the Self-Defense Forces' support for U.S. forces to include the provision of arms and ammunition as well as airborne refueling to the U.S. military's fighter jets in the event of contingencies surrounding Japan but before Japan exercises its right to self-defense, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned. This policy will be incorporated in an interim report the government is scheduled to issue next month on revisions to the Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation Guidelines, according to sources.

Current guidelines do not approve these support activities by the SDF. The revision — which reflects July's Cabinet approval of the government's views on security — will enable the SDF to give logistic support to U.S. forces in the event of an emergency on the Korean Peninsula.

The law on contingencies in areas surrounding Japan, which was formulated based on the current guidelines, restricts the SDF to providing logistical support for U.S. forces only in rear areas. While the contingencies law allows the SDF to supply U.S. forces with water and fuel and offer medical treatment to the injured, it does not permit refueling and maintenance work for U.S. fighter jets preparing for combat, even in rear areas, for fear that such support could be construed as being integrated with the use of force by the U.S. military.

Under its new views on security, which allow limited exercise of the right of collective self-defense, the government believes no problem would arise if SDF support activities are carried out in areas other than places where other countries are actually engaged in battle, the sources said. The government reportedly intends to review its current system of allowing support activities only in "rear areas" it would set up afar from battlegrounds.

In the scheduled revision of the guidelines, the Japanese and U.S. governments have been discussing whether to stipulate an expansion of SDF support activities for U.S. forces in areas where fighting is not taking place, according to the sources.

In the event of emergencies on the Korean Peninsula and other places, the government plans to enable the SDF to provide the U.S. military with arms and ammunition as well as airborne refueling to the U.S. military's fighter jets in addition to the provision of transportation and supplies in areas close to combat zones, the sources said.

By boosting support for U.S. forces, the government hopes to maintain the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance even though the U.S. government is cutting its defense budget. In addition, by enhancing U.S. trust in Japan as an ally, the government reportedly hopes to ensure the U.S. military's involvement in any military confrontation in or around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, where China has repeatedly taken provocative actions, and in other such situations.

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