Japan is moving closer to commissioning a new U.S. Marine-like amphibious force that can better protect outlying islands in areas of potential conflict.
The creation of a Japanese version of U.S. Marines will be included in the National Defense Program Guidelines to be compiled in December, Defense Ministry sources said.
The amphibious force will be set up as early as fiscal 2015 to bolster the nation’s defensive capabilities for the Nansei Island chain, which includes the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Beijing also claims the isles, and Chinese aircraft and ships are now a common sight in the area.
The Defense Ministry says the unit will eventually number 3,000 active military personnel and will be tasked exclusively with defending outlying islands, acting as a deterrent against potential hostile forces.
However, the move could heighten tensions in East Asia because the new unit will give the Self-Defense Forces the capability to land on occupied islands and attack enemy forces.
The amphibious force will be created out of a 700-member infantry regiment that is currently part of the Ground SDF’s Western Army, which is charged with protecting remote islands. The regiment is based in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture.
The Defense Ministry plans to set up a preparatory force of about 30 members in fiscal 2014 and operate six amphibious vehicles on a trial basis.
Four vehicles will be purchased in the current fiscal year, and the acquisition of the remaining two is planned for fiscal 2014.
The new amphibious force will eventually be garrisoned in several military bases, including Sasebo. The ministry is also considering deploying Osprey transport aircraft to those bases.
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