MELBOURNE, Australia — Japan has launched its first full-scale amphibious operations unit as part of a sweeping reorganization of its ground force, but questions remain about equipment delays and future basing.
The 2,100-strong amphibious brigade is drawn from the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) Western Army’s infantry regiment stationed at Camp Ainoura in Sasebo, Nagasaki prefecture. It is tasked with retaking Japan’s southern islands, stretching southwest from Kyushu to Taiwan, in the event an adversary occupies the islands.
The new brigade — under the command of Maj. Gen. Shinichi Aoki, formerly the deputy chief of staff of the Western Army — will include an amphibious infantry regiment along with a landing unit. The latter will operate the AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles currently used by the U.S. Marine Corps. Japan has ordered the vehicle for itself.
The unit will also be transported by JGSDF Bell-Boeing MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and the amphibious ships of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force.
However, the JGSDF is facing hurdles equipping its amphibious forces. It ordered 30 AAV-7s from BAE Systems and has an eventual requirement for 52 vehicles by 2020, with deliveries of the first vehicles starting in 2015. Production delays for the first 30 vehicles were caused by a fire at a BAE Systems subcontractor and a parts shortage. Japan’s Defense Ministry said in late 2017 that it expected half of the vehicles to be delivered by the end of March 2018 and the other 15 by the end of July 2018.
Meanwhile, the introduction of the Osprey into the JGSDF has also been delayed by arguments over where to base the tilt-rotor aircraft. Japan has ordered 17 Ospreys, with the first aircraft undergoing flight testing as of late 2017. Delivery is expected in autumn.
It had originally been planned to base the Ospreys at Saga Airport, about 40 miles east of the amphibious brigade’s base, but this has been delayed by hesitation on the part of the local government following crashes of Okinawa-based Marine Corps Ospreys in Japan and overseas, along with the crash in January of a JGSDF Boeing AH-64D Apache attack helicopter into a house in the region.
In addition to the creation of the amphibious brigade, the recent restructure also sees the creation of a Central Command to better integrate the various JGSDF regional commands, as well as improve coordination with the maritime force and the Japan Air Self-Defense Force.
The restructure will also see the revamp of eight of 15 JGSDF divisions and brigades, which will see them being reorganized into mobile/rapid reaction units.
Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.