Stronger Command Authority Eyed for U.S. Forces Japan to Enhance Coordination With Self-Defense Forces

Reuters file photo
Japan and U.S flags

The U.S. government is preparing to strengthen the command authority of U.S. forces in Japan, in a bid to promote cooperation with the Self-Defense Forces, according to several government sources from both nations.

The move is aimed at improving the interoperability between the two countries, in conjunction with Japan’s establishment of a new headquarters to oversee the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces at the end of fiscal 2024.

Tokyo and Washington will specify the revision of their command and control framework in a joint document to be released after an April 10 summit meeting.

Currently, the authority of U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) at Yokota Air Base has been limited to such things as overseeing Japan-U.S. joint exercises and the implementation of the Japan-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command headquartered in Hawaii has command authority over such units as the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, and Marine Corps units deployed mainly to Okinawa Prefecture.

With China increasing its military pressure in East Asia, and growing concern over a contingency involving Taiwan, it is said to be diffiult to ascertain the situation and exercise command and control in a timely manner while Tokyo and Hawaii are coordinating amid a time difference.

The upcoming review is intended to strengthen the USFJ’s authority under the Indo-Pacific Command, which will retain its command position. Specifically, the USFJ may be given authority to plan joint exercises and coordinate with the SDF’s new headquarters to share information. There is also a proposal to create a permanent joint team in Japan to ensure closer coordination between the SDF and U.S. forces in Japan.

In South Korea, command and control of the South Korean military and U.S. forces stationed there are integrated. In Japan, however, the SDF and U.S. forces are expected to separate their chains of command.

At the Japan-U.S. summit meeting in April, the two nations intend to agree on the general framework of a policy to review command and control. The details are expected to be finalized before the Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee two-plus-two talks of foreign and defense ministers later this year.

Aiming to accelerate its acquisition of counterattack capabilities, Tokyo has been eager to improve interoperability with Washington because information from the U.S. military is indispensable for identifying enemy missile launch sites and other targets.