By Junzo Ono and Chisato Yomon / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff WritersIn recent years, the Self-Defense Forces have been actively conducting joint training with military forces of “quasi-allies” and other friendly nations. The Ground Self-Defense Force has been conducting its first-ever domestic joint training with the British Army in Shizuoka and Yamanashi prefectures. This training was set to conclude on Friday. Combined with the Japan-U.S. alliance, Japan aims to keep in check China, which is building up its military, by deepening relationships with military forces of countries with which Japan shares values.
Assuming actual combat
At the GSDF Fuji School, located in Oyama, Shizuoka Prefecture, on Oct. 2, GSDF personnel and a British Army soldier, who were looking at an enemy location on a simulator screen, were given an order from behind to direct a missile-guiding laser to a target. Seconds after a British Army soldier directed the laser to the target, a roaring sound echoed, indicating an aircraft-launched guided missile hit the target, and white smoke rose from the onscreen enemy position.
The training simulates a mission in which Japanese and British reconnaissance units that entered an enemy position guide a missile to a target. On Oct. 2, a scene was shown to the media in which troops of both countries disembarked from a GSDF CH-47 transport helicopter and kept an eye on the surrounding area by closely cooperating with each other.
From the British Army, about 50 soldiers from the Honourable Artillery Company, which has experienced many military operations, participated in the training. From the GSDF, about 60 reconnaissance training and other units took part. “This is not for building the friendship, it’s full-scale combat training,” a senior GSDF official said.
It was the first time for the GSDF to conduct joint training with the British Army in Japan. The two countries are strengthening their military relationship. The Air Self-Defense Force and the Royal Air Force conducted the first joint training from October to November 2016 and the Maritime Self-Defense Force and the Royal Navy engaged in training in April this year around Japan, both for the first time.
In addition, the MSDF conducted training with the Royal Canadian Navy in July last year in waters off the Kyushu and Kanto regions for the first time and with the French Navy in February in waters off the Kanto region, for the first time as well. The ASDF had also planned its first joint training with the Royal Australian Air Force in September, although it was canceled due to an earthquake that struck Hokkaido. The GSDF will soon conduct its first joint training with the Indian Army in India.
Behind these SDF moves is China’s rising military power. With the influence of U.S. forces declining in East Asia, the SDF aims to strengthen relations with these countries to supplement the Japan-U.S. alliance. This approach indirectly supports the government’s “Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy.”
Since 2017, Japan has revised or concluded acquisition and cross-servicing agreements with foreign military forces that enable mutual provision of materials such as fuel and ammunition. Other moves to improve relevant systems are also underway to facilitate joint training.
At the same time, joint training is also beneficial to partner countries. Concerned about a possible decline in importance after its exit from the European Union, Britain wants to strengthen its involvement in the Asia Pacific region. Stability in East Asia is also important for trading nation Australia and India, which shares a border with China.
British Army Lt. Gen. Patrick Sanders implicitly warned against China at a press conference on Oct. 2. He said Britain has been expanding trade in the Asia-Pacific region, and Britain and Japan support a rule-based international system. “The U.K. is opposed to any change in the status quo by force,” he added.
However, there are also many constraints with regard to military training with other countries, unlike training with Japan’s ally the United States.
The use of the Kita-Fuji training range in Yamanashi Prefecture for the recent Japan-British military training initially faced disapproval from local governments. This is because the use of the training ground is limited to the SDF and U.S. forces under the agreement between the Defense Ministry and the local governments. Persuaded by the ministry, the local governments eventually agreed to the training ground’s use for the Japan-British training on the condition that it is “for once and for all.” Also, it is difficult to conduct the Japan-British training on a regular basis given the long distance between the two countries.
However, cooperation beyond the scope of training has also begun, with the British, Australian, Canadian and other countries’ forces participating in missions to monitor North Korea’s offshore smuggling.
“With rapidly growing Chinese naval power, it is becoming increasingly difficult to consider U.S. influence in the Asia-Pacific region absolute,” a senior Defense Ministry official said. “It is important to have cooperation with countries with which we share values.”
(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, Oct. 5, 2018)
Japan provides PKO operation know-how to developing nations
In addition to joint training with “quasi-allies” and other countries, the SDF adopts a strategy of strengthening relations with developing countries in Asia and Africa through projects that provide know-how related to U.N. peacekeeping operations.
The projects include capacity building support projects, which are provided at the request of partner countries, and projects for “rapid deployment,” which are carried out in cooperation with the United Nations for countries that expressed their intention to participate in peacekeeping operations.
Since 2012, Japan has dispatched SDF personnel to a total of 25 countries and institutions to support education and training in a wide variety of fields which the GSDF particularly excels at, such as engineering unit activities, hygiene and international aviation regulations.
Because peacekeeping operations in recent years involve dangerous duties, Japan and other developed countries are increasingly reluctant to dispatch troops. Given this, it is mainly developing countries that dispatch military personnel. “Transferring our knowledge to them will also contribute to the international community,” a senior SDF official said.
Here as well, it is China that is first and foremost in mind. In addition to its militarization in the South China Sea, China is expanding its influence with military and economic might. China has started to build military bases in countries such as Djibouti, where several countries are engaged in anti-piracy activities.