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Japan's Self-Defense Forces to guard US vessels in drill

Avenger-class mine countermeasures ship USS Chief gets underway from Commander, U.S. Fleet Activities Sasebo and passes the moored Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Hatakaze-class destroyer JS Shimakaze on Mar. 17, 2017.

ZACHARY HORVATH/U.S. NAVY

By THE JAPAN NEWS/YOMIURI Published: March 29, 2017

TOKYO — The Japanese and U.S. governments have begun arranging for Self-Defense Forces ships, by this summer, to protect U.S. military vessels for the first time in peacetime, it has been learned.

Such protection became possible under the security-related laws, which saw the first anniversary of their enactment on Wednesday, and will be conducted as part of a joint exercise by the SDF and U.S. forces.

Both countries intend to demonstrate strengthened bilateral cooperation to improve their deterrence against North Korea, which has been accelerating its nuclear and missile development, and China, which has been expanding its maritime advancement.

According to government sources, peacetime protection will be included for the first time in a joint drill by the Maritime Self-Defense Force and the U.S. Navy, to be conducted from spring to summer this year.

When such protection is sought, the National Security Council (NSC) will receive a U.S. request and examine the case. After that, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada will decide whether the request should be fulfilled.

The security-related laws expanded the range of situations in which the SDF can counterattack to protect weapons and other items if ships or aircraft are attacked in peacetime. Attacks on U.S. and other foreign forces on a mission to defend Japan were also included.

This legally resolved a previous contradiction: The SDF had not been allowed to strike back even when it was close to U.S. military vessels facing a sudden attack. The NSC adopted the new operational guidelines in December last year, but there has been no case to apply the rule to yet.

In the guidelines, SDF protection of this kind included the following cases: Japan-U.S. joint exercises; information collection and vigilance and surveillance activities, including monitoring of North Korea's ballistic missiles by Aegis-equipped vessels; transportation or resupplying activity by U.S. forces in situations that will have an significant impact on Japan's peace and security.
 

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