Reform Plans for USFJ: Establishment of New Joint Forces, Strengthened Authority; Some Concerned about ‘Complicated’ Coordination

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Self-Defense Forces members conduct landing training during Japan-U.S. joint training with the U.S. Marine Corps in Tokunoshima, Kagoshima Prefecture, in March 2023.

HONOLULU — The U.S. government intends to reorganize the U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) to strengthen its command functions in Japan as the Self-Defense Forces and the U.S. forces’ command and control system comes under review.

Two reform proposals have emerged within the government. The first proposal is to establish a new joint task force based in Japan which would work in coordination with the SDF and enable integrated command between the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Currently, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant general serves as the USFJ commander, but there are plans to fill the command post of the newly established joint task force with a general-level commander from the Pacific Fleet who would command the USFJ while traveling back and forth between Japan and the Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii.

The second proposal is to strengthen the authority of the USFJ command. According to the proposal, the position of the USFJ headquarters at Yokota Air Base in Tokyo will be fundamentally reviewed. While the operational command authority will remain in Hawaii in principle, authority for planning, training and other coordination will be transferred from Hawaii to the USFJ.

This idea is being promoted by such experts as Christopher Johnstone, a senior adviser and Japan chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies who served for many years at the Pentagon and the White House in charge of Japan. These experts insist that a lieutenant general, whose counterpart would be the deputy commander of the SDF Joint Operations Command, should be appointed as the USFJ commander. The proposal also advocates establishing a standing bilateral joint planning and coordination office in Japan.

Although many in Japan welcome the moves strengthening the USFJ authority, some are voicing concerns.

“The number of decision-making points will increase, and coordination between Japan and the U.S forces will be rather complicated,” a former senior SDF official said.

Within the U.S. forces, the Navy and the Air Force are anticipated to battle for control over the post-realignment USFJ.

Resistance is expected from the Indo-Pacific Command, whose authority will be reduced if the USFJ’s authority is strengthened.

A senior official of the U.S. Defense Department made no secret of the many challenges that lay ahead. The Pentagon plans to accelerate adjustments by setting a deadline of March 2025, when the SDF Joint Operations Command is scheduled to be established.