TOKYO — Concerns are mounting among US Marine Corps observers and defense analysts that Japan’s commitment to developing an amphibious capability and marine force is being sidelined by senior Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) leadership who favor , shunting the 3,000-strong Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB), that is supposed to become operational in spring 2017, firmly behind investments in submarines, ASW capabilities, aerial reconnaissance and ballistic missile defense. in terms of priorities.

The "de-emphasis," potentially calls into question the effectiveness of the force, scheduled to become operational in the spring of 2017 and deemed essential for Japan’s Self-Defense Force (SDF) to deter aggression against Japan’s far-flung southeastern Nansei Shoto island chain, even before nascent unit has been established, said Grant Newsham, a senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies.

"This is a historic point we're at. For the first time since the end of World War II, Japan has a choice of whether it wants a military able to defend Japan and protect its citizens or to just drift along with a stunted, misshapen SDF [Self Defense Force] that's of little use from a national security perspective and for Japan to remain pathologically dependent on the United States," Newsham said.

The Joint Staff Office headed by Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano and the GSDF (Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) appear to still be committed to amphibious development, and the MSDF Mine Warfare Force that has been assigned responsibility for the effort appears to have operated effectively at last month's Operation serious and did a good job at Dawn Blitz exercise.

However, in the MSDF, Japan's amphibious plans seem relegated toward the bottom of the pecking order, he said.

In terms of funding, efforts related to the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB) amount to 17.9 billion yen (US$27.3 million) for the financial year to April 2016 to acquire land to build bases for 52 AAV-7 amphibious landing vehicles, seven Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft and CH-47JA transport helicopters.

The ARDB for the ARDB, initially will deploy around 2,000 troops supported by about 90 specialists for training. Currently about 700 troops of the GSDF’s Sasebo-based Western Army Infantry Regiment are charged with defending about 6,000 islands and islets of the Nansei Shoto that extend south and west into the Pacific until they nearly reach Taiwan.

"Too often, people equate 'amphibious' with the Senkakus and since the Senkakus are tiny there's no need for an amphibious force. Instead, one should understand that the entire Ryukyus and Nansei Shoto are in play," .  And remember the HA/DR requirement [both domestic and regional] as well," Newsham said.

Newsham said that if properly funded, the GSDF's scheme for ARDB would be about the correct size and organization, and that many more forward-thinking MSDF officers supported the development.

"Even if it lacks enough amphibious ships for a standing three-ship amphibious ready group like the Americans have, they can still do quite well with two ships, or even one, operating in support of GSDF," Newsham said.

However, compared to resources being diverted into other programs, the ARDB is under-resourced, both in absolute budget and in planning, tactics training and equipment, sources said.

Col. Jonathan Goff, USMC liaison to the SDF, agreed that the ARDB faced a tough challenge if it was going to be an effective partner to the US.

First, the brigade's ARDB’s equipment will be almost immediately inadequate because of short-sightedness and (perhaps deliberate) under-funding, he said. For example, the ARDB needs its MV-22s to have refueling capabilities, attack helicopters need to be networked and, indeed, helicopters need folding blades, which can be retrofitted, for example. And all acquisitions need to be suitable for marine operations. None of this has been considered, Goff said.  

"They have most of the right gear but lack enablers. There is a budgeting process deficiency coupled with a planning process deficiency. There are many things the SDF did not think about when planning for this," Goff said.

More worryingly, evidence for this is steadily accumulating from a series of briefings beginning this spring by the Japanese Maritime Staff Office to the USMC made it where it has become increasingly clear that the MSDF now regards the ARDB as a distraction rather than a priority. The ARDB already faces the probability of being poorly trained but also may be the victim of inter-service rivalries.

Newsham said the USMC has received signals from the MSDF that it is not only reluctant to hold a Dawn Blitz 17 drill, citing lack of resources and ships, but also to commit to a joint effort with the GSDF to establish a joint task force to coordinate the amphibious mission.

"Amphibious operations are joint operations, requiring all three services to cooperate and operate in a unified fashion. Setting up a joint command for the Southwest Island Region is essential for focusing the amphibious development effort. This lack of jointness is SDF's most serious deficiency and prevents it from being effective," Newsham said.

"Amphibious development potentially serves as the forcing function for SDF to overcome this fundamental problem, and to actually become a useful force, able to defend Japanese territory and protect Japanese citizens. It currently cannot do either of these very well," Newsham said.

Such parochialism among pervading the three services that is moving beyond a lack of coordination to the point of noncooperation may prove to be strategically damaging to the ARDB’s chances of being an effective force.  

"The best thing they could do is establish a Southwest Regional Joint Command centering on Kyushu and Nansei Shoto and consisting of all three components under one commander. Next, establish a joint operational command counterpart to the three service operational commands and give the Joint Staff real authority over the services," Goff said.

Further evidence that the ARDB effort is being choked not only by the MSDF but also from traditionalist parts of the GSDF comes with the fact that its the ARDB’s two biggest advocates in the GSDF, Lt. Gen. Koichiro Bansho, ieutenant General, former vice chief of staff of GSDF and commander of the Western Army; and Lt. ieutenant Gen. eral Koichiro Bansho, former vice chief of staff of the Joint Staff Council, Lieutenant General and former Vice Chief of Staff of the Joint Staff Council of SDF Kōichi Isobe, were both eased into early retirement this August.

This was unfortunate because The ARBD requires a new doctrine of maneuver warfare , which is a refined and proven strategy, along with realistic training to form a ground force suitable for a maritime nation, not a Soviet land invasion, and which must be inherently expeditionary, Goff said.

"The SDF continues to insist on "a Japanese Way" of Amphib ops ... I hear this too often. That way is just an extension of the big land force doctrine, with centralized control, that they already possess," Goff said.

"The SDF is hell bent to devise 'a Japanese Way' of amphib ops. ... I hear this too often. That way is just an extension of the big land force doctrine, with centralized control, the failed doctrine they already possess, which has never been tested," Goff said.

Therefore, the ARDB "desperately" needs more training with US forces rather than less, Goff continued. The ARDB also needs organizations to test and evaluate units for combat readiness based on an objective set of training standards, taking advantage, for example, of the USMC's Tactical Training Exercise and Evaluation Groups.

Related to this, ARDB needs to tap into its existing new and leadership that is open to the experience of the US, and not controlled by GSDF doctrines that were devised in the 1950s and that have no experience fighting amphibious warfare.

"There needs to be training where failure is allowed and units pushed to their failure point. The GSDF is an army of companies with almost no training at the regiment or above. Their capacity is adequate if the Russians invade Hokkaido, but not for a mobile, agile force in 2015," Goff said.

"There needs to be training where failure is allowed and units pushed to their failure point. The GSDF is an army of companies with almost no training at the regiment or above [there are no battalions, just companies grouped into regiments]. Their capacity is adequate if the Russians invade Hokkaido, but not for a mobile, agile force in 2015. At this juncture, their level is nil," Goff said.

Christopher Hughes, a Japan military expert and professor of international politics and Japanese studies at the University of Warwick, said it was perhaps too early to judge the unit, which has only been in planning since 2013.

"I hear the criticism of the Japanese moves thus far, but it takes time to build a marine force-type capability and we also know even the USMC is not free of rivalries in working with other US military services," . I think, though, that Japan must be relatively seriously committed over the longer term," Hughes said.

As the revised US-Japan Defense Guidelines make clear, have made it clear that it is Japan's responsibility to first respond to any attack on its southern islands. So and the US is not going to be desperately keen to be involved in this, Hughes believes said he believed that over time the ARDB would overcome Japan’s typical interservice rivalries because of the since Japan has to respond to the looming threat from China in this area.

"It's unusual that a defense capability — amphibiosity — potentially has such strategic, transformational importance, if taken advantage of," Newsham said.

"Japan's decades-long underfunding of the JSDF is a disgrace. However, even without major increases it is possible to develop a useful amphibious force as envisioned by GSDF and others. It just takes reorganizing existing assets and, as important, changed mindsets and missions," he said.


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