dijous, 7 de novembre de 2013

We shall fight them on the beaches: Japan looks at UK for inspiration as she readies for amphibious drills*

Japan is taking a major step forward in her deterrence strategy, conducting a large-scale amphibious drill designed to put on display her ability to reconquer an island.
This follows Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's repeated references to the Falklands in his speeches, a polite and indirect, yet unequivocal way, of warning China that an invasion of the Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu for Beijing) would be met with an amphibious counterstrike. This was crowned by his recent meeting with Falklands veteran His Royal Highness the Duke of York. On the political and diplomatic side the drills are designed to show that Tokyo is not standing alone should that scenario materialize. Japan has already succeeded in getting the United States to acknowledge that the bilateral security treaty covers indeed the Senkaku Islands, following a certain ambiguity and conflicting public statements in the past. Next step is to show that Japanese and US forces are interoperable and could work together in such a campaign. All of this while developing a Japanese amphibious capability. However, there is still the nagging question whether a successful and relatively bloodless landing by Beijing may prompt some voices in the US to claim the islands are no longer under Tokyo's effective control and therefore outside the scope of an automatic response in support of Japan. Should Japan fear that scenario Tokyo's next logical step may be to deploy land troops. While it is not clear yet whether that step will ever be taken, Japan is deploying, as part of the drills, anti-ship missiles with which to close the First Island Chain to Chinese shipping.

Japan's growing amphibious capabilities. The creation of specialized units and facilities in this field is one of the aspects of Japan's defense reorientation following the end of the Cold War and the growing might of the Chinese Navy. The idea is to develop a capability to deploy in contested islands in the event of a major crisis, and to retake them if necessary.

With that need in view, Tokyo decided to develop a specialized force, mentored by the US Navy and Marine Corps. The force will comprise contingents from the Ground, Air, and Maritime Self-Defense Forces (SDF), and include different units covering a range of capabilities, from infantry to maritime transportation, and including the necessary air support. This specialized force is seen as necessary, among others, because the disputed territories are far not only from existing military facilities, but from civilian infrastructure able to support operations.

Until 2012, Japan considered marines to be offensive in nature and thus falling outside the scope of Article 9 of her constitution. The current government interpretation of the text is that it allows defensive, but not offensive, weapons, a distinction not always easy to make in practice. Finally, last year the cabinet came to the conclusion that Japanese law allowed marines units to be created and deployed. The unit selected to serve as the core, the seed, of this amphibious capability was the Western Army Infantry Regiment (WAIR), based in Nagasaki. This location facilitates its quick embarkation on MDSF (Maritime Self-Defence Forces) ships at Nagasaki/Sasebo or on V-22 Ospreys from nearby air bases at Nyutabaru and Tsuiki. From this core, Japanese amphibious capabilities are expected to expand.

Despite its name, the WAIR is, broadly speaking, of battalion size. It is made up of at least three infantry companies. Its table of equipment is that of a light infantry unit, with weapons no heavier than 84mm Carl Gustav recoil-less rifles (employed by the Royal Marines against ARA Guerrico in the defense of South Georgia) and French MO-120-RT 120mm towed mortars. Tokyo announced recently that it would be buying up to six AAV-7A1 amphibious assault vehicles. Traditionally the WAIR's only vehicles were light trucks.

Concerning air support, up to now the WAIR has not had at its disposal any dedicated, specialized, collocated, air unit. Traditionally, it has relied on helicopters from the 1st Aviation Brigade, with headquarters near Tokyo. For example, during the June 2013 Dawn Blitz drills, which took place in Southern California, this brigade provided AH-64 Apache and CH-47 Chinook helicopters. Now Tokyo is pondering the possibility of purchasing organic air transport for her marines, in the shape of up to 20 V-22 Ospreys. This may allow the WAIR to quickly move to the Senkaku Islands in the event of a crisis. The Ospreys are however somewhat controversial in Japan, with certain opposition due to past accidents.

With regard to naval means, here we can observe how, in spite the very recent decision to develope specialized marine units, Japan has long enjoyed a sizable capability when it comes to amphibious ships. The MSDF's three Oosumi class vessels are considered to be Landing Ship, Tanks (LSTs) and feature full-length flight decks and a well deck. Each can transport almost a battalion of infantry, plus tanks and other vehicles. Each of these ships can carry two American-built Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC), Japan having six of them. Tokyo also has a dozen medium-sized landing crafts, each able to transport around 30 tons of equipment or up to 80 marines from the ship to shore. To the Oosumi class we must add the Hyuga class, officially described as “helicopter destroyers” but similar in look and capabilities to light carriers. Each can carry up to 14 or 16 helicopters, and it probably would not be too difficult to convert them to operate VTOL (vertical take-off and landing) planes like the F-35-B which the UK is buying for her Queen Elizabeth Class carriers, currently under construction. Although media reports do not usually refer to this, the question remains in the air whether the budding defense cooperation between London and Tokyo may include at some point future assistance in developing such a capability. It may be a door left open. Similar to the French Mistral class and American Iwo Jima class in their versatility, the Hyuga Class, of which a third vessel is under construction, provides a very strong addition to Japan's amphibious capabilities. This, while able to serve in a variety of different roles. Writing for the Asahi Shimbun on the occasion of the launch in August 2013 of the second ship in the class, the Izumo, Alessio Patalano (King's College London), one of the top experts on Japanese Naval Affairs, made this clear. Patalano stressed her design had multiplied “the Izumo’s operational flexibility and versatility so that it can be used in the defense of offshore islands, to rescue nationals overseas and as a command ship in expeditionary or relief missions” and adding that “In relief operations after the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, for example, the helicopter destroyer Hyuga was deployed precisely in that type of function”.

We can thus see how, out of the three pillars of Tokyo's amphibious forces, the maritime one is probably the strongest. The marine component is currently under development, and in the air there is still a lack of specialized units and equipment, with Tokyo pondering the purchase of V-22 Ospreys.

Concerning US assistance in the process, Washington may be interested not only in helping Tokyo reinforce her military capabilities as a complement to her own “Pivot to the Pacific”, which rests in no small measure on a strengthening of the naval capabilities of key allies and partners such as the Philippines and Japan, but also in opening the door to a Japanese contribution to US-led amphibious operations. This was stressed by Kyle Mizokami in his recent piece on “Japan’s Amphibious Buildup” for the United States Naval Institute News. Mizokami wrote “Under the tutelage of the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps, Japan is slowly but surely building up a credible, flexible amphibious force capable of responding to national emergencies. Highly trained with a high level of mobility, it could eventually become the equal of both. The force will not only be highly useful in Japan’s territorial disputes, it will likely be a excellent partner for their American counterparts in joint operations”.

Recently writing in the Asahi Shimbun, Koji Sonoda explained that according to Japanese Defense Ministry sources “The creation of a Japanese version of U.S. Marines will be included in the National Defense Program Guidelines to be compiled in December”, adding that “The amphibious force will be set up as early as fiscal 2015”. Sonoda said that these sources had revealed the target size of the force to be 3,000. Four of the specialized craft mentioned earlier would be purchased in the current fiscal year, and the remaining two in Fiscal 2014.

The coming drills: ships, jets, and 34,000 troops. Japan's Defense Ministry has announced a large-scale military exercise designed to bolster the country's ability to protect her remote islands, claimed by other nations. AFP quoted a ministry official who explained that the war games would feature “destroyers, fighter jets and 34,000 troops”, adding that they would involve “live-firing”. The “air-sea-land drill” will be held from 1 to 18 November. It will comprise “amphibious landings on the uninhabited atoll of Okidaitojima, 400 kilometres southeast of the main Okinawan island”.

In a statement, the SDF joint staff said that the drill was aimed at “maintaining and improving the joint operational abilities of the Self-Defense Forces in armed-attack situations”, adding that it would feature “a series of actions in defending islands” including combined operations in landings.

According to the Asahi and Fuji TV networks, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces are pondering the deployment of short-range anti-ship missiles on Ishigaki, an island 150 kilometers away from the Senkaku-Diayu. Both sources added that there were no plans to conduct live-fire exercises in Ishigaki. The deployment was later confirmed by US private intelligence firm Stratfor.

Closing the First Island Chain: the Long Shadow of HMS Glamorgan. The decision to deploy anti-ship missiles in the islands of Ishigaki and Miyako-jima was the aspect of the drills most clearly stressed by Straftor. Although the “Type 88 surface-to-ship missiles” will not be tested, Stratfor believes that “their deployment is important because stationing batteries of Type 88 missiles in such a way would effectively put the entire passage between Okinawa-jima and Miyako-jima under the coverage of Japanese land-based surface-to-ship missiles”. The commentary notes that while Tokyo denies aiming this deployment at anyone in particular, “the Chinese navy is increasingly using the same passage through the first island chain and into the Pacific” and as a result “the deployment is sure to send a strong message to Beijing”.

Stratfor concludes that Japan's drills and anti-ship missile deployments “show that, despite some Chinese military claims of having 'dismembered' the first island chain as an obstacle”, transiting it “in peacetime is entirely different from attempting the same feat during a conflict with Japan”.

The potential of shore-based anti-ship missiles became clear in the closing stages of the 1982 Falklands War, when Argentinian forces launched an improvised Exocet missile (taken from the above mentioned ARA Guerrico) against the Royal Navy's HMS Glamorgan, damaging her extensively and taking her out of action. While not as well known as the other two successful instances of Buenos Aires' use of this weapons system during that war, from the air against HMS Sheffield and SS Atlantic Conveyor, it was duly noted by both Chinese and Japanese naval planners. Recent Filipino commentary on how to protect waters claimed by China has also featured discussions on mobile shore-based missiles, possible camouflaged in some of that country's extensive jungle areas. Taiwan is also another country considering the potential of this kind of weapons system, one of the “asymmetrical” technologies that many voices are urging Taipei to adapt, given the growing gap in conventional naval capabilities on both sides of the Taiwan Strait.

Japan's accompanying public relations (PR) offensive. The announcement of the drills went hand in hand with that of a renewed exercise in public diplomacy, with Japan releasing some videos, and announcing the coming publication of others, defending Tokyo's position in the island disputes with the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Korea. AFP informed that “In its latest volley, the foreign ministry has produced two 90-second videos stating its case for ownership of the two disputed island groups and posted them on its YouTube site”. It added that both clips were in Japanese and that they would be followed by versions in other languages, “including Chinese and Korean”. AFP quoted a Foreign Affairs Ministry (FOMA) official as saying that “We are also preparing three other short movies on the Senkaku islands and one on the issue of Takeshima,” the later refers to islets under South Korean control, which Seoul calls Dokdo. The official explained that the FOMA had earmarked 120 million yen in the current fiscal year to produce such films, adding that “It is important that the international community obtain correct understanding over situations surrounding Japan including territories”.

Both Beijing and Seoul reacted strongly to this move. Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying insisted once more that the Senkaku Islands belonged to Beijing, adding that “Whatever propaganda tools Japan employs to support its illegal claim, it will not change the fact that the Diaoyu Islands belong to China”. Chunying said “We strongly urge the Japanese side to correct its attitude, stop all provocative words and actions and make concrete efforts for the proper management and resolution of the question of the Diaoyu Islands”. On the other hand, Seoul lodged a formal diplomatic protest over the Youtube video, summoning a senior Japanese embassy official on 26 October.

At the time of writing, the Japanese MOFA's Youtube channel still contained the two Japanese-language video clips only. The one on the Senkaku Islands had been viewed by 258,577 people, and the one on Takeshima/Dokdo by 406,895.

From “Three Blocks” to “Three Islands”, or the thin line between police and the military. Since an invasion of the Senkaku Islands could take place at the hands not only of a conventional military force, but also of unarmed activists supported by naval and air units, a question which we may ask ourselves is: Does Tokyo have the capability to use non-lethal force to recover control of a contested islands? One of the most difficult challenges of contemporary war fighting is the need to be prepared for very different scenarios, and to prevail in all of them at the same time. It is what the US Marine Corps calls the “Three-Block” doctrine. It does not suffice to be able to employ brute force, like a doctor, sometimes resorting to surgery, sometimes just prescribing a pill or some exercise, modern Armed Forces are called upon to be ready to resort to a wide range of tools. Confronting an entrenched unit of the PLA, ready to open fire, is not the same as confronting a group of Chinese activists, with the usual addition of a few Hong Kong and Taiwan “compatriots”, with their placards and slogans. Are Japan's Self-Defense Forces ready to react to both scenarios, and even to both in different islands at the same time? Do they have the necessary training, equipment, and doctrine for this? Is the recovery of an island in the hands of unarmed activists backed up by naval and air forces included in the coming drills? These are questions that need to be asked. The US Marine Corps itself has recognized the need to acquire a police capability, one of the lessons learned in Iraq, setting up a battalion of reservists who are police officers in their daily life.

The British factor: A renewed Anglo-Japanese Alliance? While it is the United States that constitute the main target for Japan's diplomacy when it comes to securing support for its stance on the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands, we cannot but fail to note the growing significance of the United Kingdom in Tokyo's discourse. We have already noted Shinzo Abe's frequent references to the Falklands, but this may just be the tip of the iceberg. A recent two-day security conference at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security (RUSI)'s Tokyo Branch, featured none other than the Duke of York, a veteran of the 1982 war, with Shinzo Abe as the keynote speaker. It is interesting to note how, within the division of duties in the British Royal Family, the Duke of York is in charge of export and investment promotion. So again we find what is fast becoming Shinzo Abe's trademark combination of economic and security issues. The message was dual: working to increase trade and investment links with another advanced economy, and sending the signal that just like the UK in 1982 force would be met with force. All in the most deniable way of course, but the message was there.
The conference was titled “Rejuvenating UK-Japan relations for the 21st century” and was jointly organized by RUSI and the Sasakawa Peace Foundation. It took place in Tokyo from 30 September to 1 October 2013. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe attended the event, delivering a keynote address and meeting the Duke of York. The 400th anniversary of UK-Japan relations seems to be providing cover for Japan's deterrence diplomacy. Next year, the 100 anniversary of the First World War, where Japan and the UK fought together, may provide further opportunities for the Japanese prime minister to send subtle messages to China and to Tokyo's allies. In his speech, Abe already noted how the Japanese Imperial Navy came to be known as “the guardian of the Mediterranean”. Can Japan combine a no-nonsense approach to national security without incurring excessive military spending and/or prompting accusations of militarism at home and abroad? That is a key question, and one on which the Japanese Government seems to be looking to the UK as a possible role model, to some extent going back to the old days of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, the old days when Japan was respected as a regional power without being seen as an outcast and a bully as in the 1930s.

Conclusions. The drills announced by Tokyo are significant, and not just due to the large number of personnel involved, but above all because they signal a clear determination to show the world, both to allies and to potential foes, that Japan is back as a major naval power and that she is developing a serious amphibious capability, together with the ability to close off key naval passages at a time of conflict. There is little doubt that the Japanese military are professional and skilled and that they can easily acquire new capabilities. However, what is equally important for Tokyo, perhaps even more so, is to integrate the securing of national objectives such as the defense of the Senkaku Islands with the defense of wider interests and values such as freedom of navigation, the rule of law, and the peaceful solution to territorial disputes. Since becoming prime minister for a second time Shinzo Abe has devoted much time and effort to this, and it has become a constant in his speeches. Growing links to the UK are part of this strategy, since that country displays many of the characteristics that Japan is seeking, being an ally of the US with significant military capabilities and sizable soft power. Furthermore, referring to the UK and her past defense of the rule of law in the South Atlantic is an attractive way of stressing that Japan's rearmament and normalization are meant to benefit, not hinder, the national interest of other countries. Thus, beyond the development of technical capabilities and doctrines, this is and remains Shinzo Abe's main challenge, together with economic recovery: portraying Japan's reemergence in the security arena as that of a force for good, going back to the old days of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, when Japan was known as the “Britain of the Far East” and leaving behind the negative legacy of the 1930s and the Second Sino-Japanese War and the Second World War. If Abe succeeds in this and in getting the Japanese economy to grow sustainably again, his legacy will be assured.

Alex Calvo, an expert on security and defence in the Asia-Pacific Region, is currently guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan)

* Article publicat al CEEC. Interessantíssim anàlisi del professor Àlex Calvo sobre els canvis en les JSDF.

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