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More troops to guard southern isles

Date Posted: 2004-09-24

A potentially controversial plan is in the works to increase the footprint of Japanese Ground Self Defense Forces in Okinawa.

The Defense Agency plans to beef up its defenses of the critical southwestern islands. Reports say ground forces in Okinawa Prefecture will increase by 850 troops to 2,300. Key to the plan is adding the infantry regiment to the Ground Self Defense Force 1st Combined Brigade.

The plan is part of a final report compiled by a Defense Agency panel charged with updating Japanese defense strategies. It is expected to be completed by late this year. It focuses on threats facing Japan in the guerilla warfare and terrorism arenas. It emphasizes the need for strengthening defenses on remote islands.

The move to add the new infantry regiment adds strength to Okinawa defense capabilities, while marking a major shift in Japanese policy, which until now has emphasized defending northern parts of the country from threats posed by the former Soviet Union.

The policy shift is expected to irritate China, as the plan addresses possible threats to islands such as the disputed Senkaku chain, which China claims.

The new infantry unit will receive about 40 light armored vehicles now being used by GSDF troops serving in Iraq. Officials say the new capabilities will enhance capabilities and mobility for the new team.

Another element sure to draw fire is the plan to station some ground personnel on Miyako Island. Miyako is currently home only to an Air Self Defense Force radar station. The Defense Agency also plans to set up a communications unit to serve the entire Kyushu region, home to the GSDF Western Army. Officials indicate the new unit will enhance information collections on the remote islands.

The other element to the new plan is upgrading aircraft capabilities, including replacing antiquated F-4 fighter plans now at Naha Air Base with F-15s. Sources say they also intend t o deploy jet fighters on Shimoji Island near Taiwan.

Initial reaction to the plan is negative, with mayors and other Okinawa officials expressing irritation with the idea of increasing any military strength in the Prefecture. Officials are bracing for a rash of complaints in coming days.

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