Bills to Create Joint SDF Headquarters Pass Diet; New Joint Commander to Ease Burden on SDF Chief

The Yomiuri Shimbun
The House of Councillors votes to create a joint command center for the Self-Defense Forces on Friday.

The House of Councillors on Friday passed a legislative package to create a joint operations command center for the Self-Defense Forces.

The package was approved by the Liberal Democratic Party, Komeito, the Constitutional Democratic Party of Japan, Nippon Ishin (Japan Innovation Party) and the Democratic Party for the People, making it into law. It includes a revision of the Self-Defense Forces Law.

The new headquarters will jointly direct Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces even in peacetime. This is meant to ease the workload of the chief of the Joint Staff, the top uniformed officer of the SDF, as well as improve collaboration with U.S. forces.

The headquarters is set to be launched by the end of this fiscal year inside the Defense Ministry head office in the Ichigaya district of Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo, with 240 staff members.

The joint operations commander, who will head up the new center, will be an SDF officer of the same rank as a general in the Ground and Air Self-Defense Forces or a vice admiral in the Maritime Self-Defense Force.

The joint commander will direct the Ground Component Command, the Self-Defense Fleet, the Air Defense Command, the SDF Cyber Defense Command and the Space Operations Group.

Currently, the chief of the Joint Staff coordinates SDF operations while advising the prime minister and the defense minister. After the new command center is set up, the chief of the Joint Staff will focus on advising the ministers.

Japan, U.S. to review frameworks

The Japanese and U.S. governments will accelerate work toward reviewing “command and control” frameworks, aiming to boost collaboration between their forces.

As early as this summer, Japan and the United States will hold “two-plus-two” security talks where they plan for minister-level officials to hammer out the details.

Currently, the SDF’s chief of the Joint Staff plays two roles simultaneously. They are the equivalent of the chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff on strategy, and of the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command in the area of joint operations.

After the new SDF headquarters is launched, the joint commander there would take over on coordinating with the Indo-Pacific Command.

“We will be able to centralize cooperation, both for information sharing and operations, with our allies’ command centers,” said Defense Minister Minoru Kihara at a press conference on Friday.

At a Japan-U.S. summit in April, the two sides agreed to review command and control frameworks for the SDF and U.S. forces. The U.S. military also aims to speed up organizational changes for its forces in Japan.

The U.S. Defense Department plans to compile a reform plan based on input from the Indo-Pacific Command, which controls U.S. forces in Japan. Several ideas have been floated, including strengthening the authority of the U.S. forces headquarters in Japan, and setting up a new joint unit based in Japan. But progress has proved difficult, and some experts expect a concrete plan to take time.