Japan Accelerates Preparations for Unified Command of SDF; Defense Ministry Seeks Seamless Response to Contingencies

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada speaks at a press conference on Tuesday.

The Defense Ministry is accelerating preparations to establish a “unified command” at the end of fiscal 2024, which will command the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces in an integrated manner so they can respond efficiently to such situations as possible contingency around Japan or a major disaster.

The headquarters of the envisaged unified command will be established in Ichigaya, Tokyo, with an initial staff of about 240, according to sources. The number of personnel will be expanded gradually.

The unified command is also meant to better deal with new domains such as the cyber world and space.

“It’s essential to be able to seamlessly conduct activities at all stages, from peacetime to a contingency,” Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada stressed at a press conference on Tuesday.

The SDF has traditionally responded to contingencies by organizing a temporary joint task force. With a contingency involving Taiwan becoming a serious possibility, and the risk of major disasters such as an earthquake directly under the capital or a massive earthquake in the Nankai Trough, the ministry decided it was necessary to establish a unified command while peace still reigned.

The ministry plans to submit a bill to the ordinary Diet session next year to revise the Self-Defense Forces Law to reorganize the SDF.

The joint commander will be a senior officer with the same rank as the chiefs of staff of the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces, and will command the Ground Component Command, the Self Defense Fleet, the Air Defense Command, the SDF Cyber Defense Command and the Space Operations Group.

The commander will formulate plans for integrated operations and conduct training for integrated operations in peacetime.

The chief of the Joint Staff, the top SDF officer, will continue to assist the defense minister as the highest expert advisor on SDF operations. The chief will be responsible for ensuring that the joint commander steadily executes the orders of the defense minister.

Currently, the chief of the Joint Staff doubles as the counterpart of the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. forces on the strategic side and of the commander of the Indo-Pacific Command on the joint operations side. In the future, the joint commander will become the counterpart of the commander of the Indo-Pacific Command, working closely with U.S. forces.

In the fiscal 2024 budget request released by the Defense Ministry in August, the ministry earmarked ¥10.5 billion for the renovation of related facilities and other expenses.

The National Defense Strategy approved at the end of last year clearly stated a policy of thoroughly “scrapping and building” with regard to the establishment of new organizations. However, the budget request was limited to the consolidation of the MSDF’s Ominato and Yokosuka districts.

According to a senior Defense Ministry official, the “scrapping” is insufficient.