The Japan Coast Guard is planning to create a fleet of 12 cutters to patrol the waters around the Senkaku Islands in response to the constant presence there of ships affiliated with the Chinese government.
A special team of about 400 coast guard officers will be assigned to the Senkaku patrols. Because the necessary number of officers cannot be secured through new enlistment alone, the coast guard is considering a plan to extend the retirement age for officers.
To create the fleet of 12 cutters, sources said the government will include a request in the supplementary budget to be submitted for the current fiscal year seeking to construct six cutters in the 1,000-ton class. Plans call for launching those cutters by fiscal 2015.
In line with the launching of the 6,500-ton Akitsushima cutter this autumn, there were also plans to decommission two 3,000-ton cutters. Instead, those two cutters will be retrofitted to increase their maximum speed so they are capable of responding to intrusions into Japanese territorial waters by ships belonging to the Chinese government, which also has territorial claims over the islands it refers to as the Diaoyu Islands. Although cutters are normally in service for about 25 years, the overhaul will allow the coast guard to use those old cutters for an additional 15 years.
The plan to construct four 1,000-ton class cutters using funds in this fiscal year's reserve fund will allow those cutters to join the Senkaku fleet from fiscal 2014.
The coast guard now has about 12,000 officers, of which about 2,500 are 55 or older. That means a large number of officers will continue to retire every year.
The 1,000-ton cutters that will play the key role in patrolling the Senkaku waters require crews of about 30 officers. However, it will be difficult to greatly increase the number of recruits to the Japan Coast Guard School, located in Kyoto Prefecture. To come up with the necessary manpower, a plan is being considered to extend the retirement age from the current 60. Older officers would be assigned to rear line support positions, which would free up younger officers to be assigned to the 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters, which has jurisdiction over the Senkakus.
Since the central government purchased three of the Senkaku Islands last September, Chinese government-affiliated ships have entered Japanese territorial waters 21 times. About five ships from China are believed to be constantly patrolling the waters surrounding the Senkakus.
The 11th Regional Coast Guard Headquarters only has seven cutters of at least 1,000 tons, so cutters from other regional coast guard headquarters have been sent to the 11th Region. However, that has hindered normal operations in other areas, including the cancellation of this year's fleet review ceremony.
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