Japan’s forces going amphibious, but no decision on the vehicles yet

An amphibious assault vehicle assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit approaches the well deck of the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu in waters off Okinawa, Japan, in September 2014. Japan plans to purchase dozens of amphibious vehicles, but has not yet decided on a model.

By ERIK SLAVIN | STARS AND STRIPES Published: December 1, 2014

YOKOSUKA NAVAL BASE, Japan — Japan plans to buy 52 amphibious vehicles through 2018 but hasn’t yet decided on a model, a Defense Ministry official said Monday.

Japan is working on assembling a Marines-like unit within its Self-Defense Forces, amid concerns over Chinese claims of the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea. Both countries have scrambled fighter jets over the uninhabited islands during the past two years, and low-level maritime standoffs have increased in nearby waters.

A recent Japanese media report said the Defense Ministry will buy the Amphibious Assault Vehicle, or AAV-7, which also is used by the U.S. Marine Corps. The ministry spokesman, however, denied any decision on a model had been made.

“We have purchased four AAV-7s in fiscal 2013 and two AAV-7s in fiscal 2014 as samples for reference,” the ministry spokesman said on condition of anonymity, as is customary in Japan.

The Defense Ministry began studying procurement options in April but hasn’t set a deadline for the study’s completion, according to the spokesman.

Japan trains regularly with the U.S. military on amphibious warfare, including during an expeditionary combat simulation at the bilateral Keen Sword exercise in November. Last year, Japanese troops traveled to California to train with Marines on reclaiming an island as part of the Iron Fist exercise.

The Marine Corps is focused on upgrading its aging AAV-7 stock and adding a new vehicle to take over its role.

Marine Commandant Gen. James Amos favors the Amphibious Combat Vehicle, though that program has faced budgetary pressures in Congress and design concerns from military analysts.

The wheeled Amphibious Combat Vehicle would provide greater protection on land, but would have limited “swim” capability and require a vessel or heavy-lift air transport to get it from sea to shore.

Stars and Stripes reporter Chiyomi Sumida contributed to this report.

Twitter: @eslavin_stripes

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