Members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force fire a Type-03 missile in this undated photo.

Members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force fire a Type-03 missile in this undated photo. (Japan Ground Self-Defense Force)

CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — Tokyo officially opens a new Japan Ground Self-Defense Force base with missile units this week on Ishigaki in the nation’s southern island chain.

Camp Ishigaki will begin operations on Thursday, with an opening ceremony April 2, a spokesman from the Okinawa Defense Bureau told Stars and Stripes by phone Tuesday. The bureau represents Japan’s Defense Ministry in the region.

The official launch date was first announced March 7 by ministry spokesman Takeshi Aoki, Japanese public broadcaster NHK reported that day.

“The gap of the Japan Self-Defense Forces in the Nansei region will be solved,” Aoki said of the new base during a press conference at the ministry offices in Tokyo, according to the NHK report. “This shows the will of our country to not allow changes in the status quo by force.”

The Nansei Islands stretch from Kyushu, the southernmost of the four main islands, to within 70 miles of Taiwan. Ishigaki is about 150 miles east of Taiwan.

Aoki said the new facility will enhance Japan’s “deterrence power” in the southern island chain and lead to the “security of our nation.”

The base is scheduled to receive long-range missiles on Saturday and Sunday, Okinawa Times newspaper reported March 8, citing unnamed sources.

This undated photo shows a building under construction at Camp Ishigaki on Japan's Ishigaki Island.

This undated photo shows a building under construction at Camp Ishigaki on Japan's Ishigaki Island. (Okinawa Defense Bureau)

Construction at Camp Ishigaki began in 2019, with essential facilities completed this month, the bureau spokesman said. Plans from 2018 called for three main buildings, a shooting range, two vehicle maintenance hangars, four ammunitions depots, a warehouse, a training facility and other buildings, according to the Ishigaki city website.

Construction is ongoing, the bureau spokesman said. Some government officials in Japan are required to speak to the media only on condition of anonymity.

Approximately 570 personnel from security, surface-to-air and surface-to-ship guided-missile units will be stationed at the base, according to the ministry website. The missile units will be moved south from Ground Self-Defense Force camps in Nagasaki and Kumamoto prefectures.

They will be armed with Type-12 surface-to-ship guided missiles and Type-03 surface-to-air guided missiles, the ministry said. Type-12 missiles will be stored in the ammunition facilities on the base, Aoki said Friday, according to a separate NHK report.

The Chinese military is increasing its presence in the seas east of the island chain and around Taiwan with naval drills, overflights and transits of key, narrow straits that give way to the Pacific Ocean.

In response, Japan has built military bases in the Nansei, deployed troops and announced it intends to position surface-to-air missiles in the region as well.

Tokyo in December approved a record defense budget of about $51.4 billion for fiscal year 2023, which begins in April, that emphasized counterstrike capabilities and strengthened standoff air and missile defense.

The country is developing an upgraded version of the high-speed, truck-mounted Type-12 missile with its range extended from 62 miles to 620 miles, putting potential targets around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea and parts of China and North Korea within reach.

Critics have said that positioning these assets in the Nansei may violate Japan’s pacifist constitution.

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Keishi Koja is an Okinawa-based reporter/translator who joined Stars and Stripes in August 2022. He studied International Communication at the University of Okinawa and previously worked in education.
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Matthew M. Burke has been reporting from Okinawa for Stars and Stripes since 2014. The Massachusetts native and UMass Amherst alumnus previously covered Sasebo Naval Base and Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, Japan, for the newspaper. His work has also appeared in the Boston Globe, Cape Cod Times and other publications.

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