Japan Ground Self-Defense Force set to begin massive island-defense drills
By MATTHEW M. BURKE AND KEN KUNIYOSHI | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 16, 2017
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Japanese soldiers are gearing up for massive, monthlong defense drills that will include 14,000 personnel, 3,800 vehicles and 60 aircraft.
The goal of the exercise — scheduled to run from Oct. 23 to Nov. 22 — is to improve the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s capabilities of responding to an island invasion, a statement from the service said. The training will take place in Fukuoka, Nagasaki, Oita, Kumamoto, Miyazaki, Kagoshima and Okinawa prefectures.
Island defense has grown in importance for Japan and its U.S. allies in recent years. Japan’s latest defense white paper — approved by the cabinet in August — depicts the country as vulnerable to North Korean missiles and hard-pressed to defend its southern territory against China’s rapidly growing and aggressive military.
While the drills will be conducted mostly without U.S. troops, the JGSDF’s Western Army and Central Readiness Force will utilize some American bases, a Ministry of Defense spokesman said.
As the Western Army trains with the Central Readiness Force using Type 10 tanks, UH-60JA Black Hawk, AH64-D Apache Longbow and CH-47JA Chinook helicopters, a Northern Army regiment will move to Kyushu via rail, sea and air, the JGSDF statement said.
Logistics support training will take place at Amami Oshima in Kagoshima Prefecture, a Western Army spokesman said. At least one U.S. military Landing Craft Utility vessel is slated to participate.
On Okinawa, training will take place on the main island, Kume island and Yonaguni island, the JGSDF statement said. U.S. installations Naha Military Port, Torii Station, Camp Kinser and Camp Hansen will also be used.
No Okinawa-based U.S. personnel will participate in the drills, not even in an observational role, the Ministry of Defense spokesman said.
“U.S. facilities will be used under the status of forces agreement to conduct logistics training and coastal surveillance training,” said the spokesman, who added Japanese troops will operate on the Okinawa bases without U.S. involvement.
The spokesman declined to disclose the number of personnel and types of equipment scheduled to train on the island prefecture.