YOKOTA AIR BASE, Japan — Hundreds of Japanese troops are moving in with their U.S. counterparts in Tokyo as part of a strategy aimed at fostering closer cooperation between the two militaries.
Almost 300 members of the Japan Ground Self Defense Force will move to Camp Zama — home to the U.S. Army Japan and I Corps Forward — by the end of March, bringing the total number of Japanese troops at the base to 570, Japanese defense officials said.
The enhanced cooperation between the two armies follows the 2011 movement of 800 Japanese airmen to Yokota Air Base, home to the U.S. 5th Air Force, U.S. Forces Japan and the 374th Airlift Wing.
U.S. Army Japan spokesman Maj. Randall Baucom said most of the Japanese soldiers moving to Camp Zama are assigned to a Central Readiness Force Headquarters, which is moving there from Camp Asaka, a Japanese military base on the other side of Tokyo.
“The Central Readiness Force responds effectively to new threats and diverse situations,” a Japanese Defense Ministry spokesman said.
The force trains personnel for overseas peacekeeping missions and includes specialized units such as helicopter and chemical detachments that can respond to attacks by guerrillas or enemy special forces, the spokesman said
“The intent of the move is to more closely align Japan Ground Self Defense Force operations with U.S. Army Japan,” he said.
To accommodate the Japanese personnel, Camp Zama is adding new barracks, offices and a gymnasium, Baucom said.
Forty of the new arrivals will be assigned to the JGSDF’s 4th Engineer Group, which is already based there, the Defense Ministry spokesman said.
Moving more Japanese soldiers to Camp Zama will allow for regular and frequent exchange of information with U.S. forces and for cooperation in an emergency, he said.
“It can forge close ties by having both headquarters in the same place,” he said. “It can also utilize the U.S. Army’s knowledge.”
Japanese forces are based at several other U.S. facilities in the country, including bases on Okinawa, the spokesman said, adding that U.S. troops are also assigned to Japanese bases, such as Hyakuri Air Base.
Rio Hinata-Yamaguchi, a Japanese defense expert doing research at Hawaii’s Pacific Forum, said there’s already good coordination between the U.S. and Japanese navies.
“The issues with coordination have always been in the ground and air components,” he said.
Officials from both countries will likely examine the impact of the latest moves before making more efforts to integrate their forces, he said.
In October, the Center for a New American Security, a moderate think tank, recommended that the United States consider opening Yokota Air Base to Japanese civilian flights and, as a “quid pro quo,” ask for military access to Japanese civilian airports in emergencies.
However, Hinata-Yamaguchi said he doesn’t see that happening any time soon because authorities in Tokyo are focused on developing the civilian Haneda Airport rather than landing commercial flights at Yokota.