Japan to beef up military 'in case of island invasion'

JAPAN - Japan is seeking to boost its military's ability to recapture outlying islands that are invaded by an enemy force and to upgrade its surveillance capability using high-altitude, unmanned aircraft.

These are some of the proposals expected to be listed in a defence agency report due out on Friday, Japanese media said.

The report analyses the country's present defence capability and emphasises the areas that should be strengthened to deal with the increasingly severe security environment surrounding Japan.

The contents of the report are expected to be reflected in the final draft of the country's new defence programme outline that is due out by the end of the year.

Hawkish Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had ordered a review of the outline, which was drawn up in 2010 under the previous Democrat-led administration, and has boosted the defence budget.

The security situation around Japan has taken a turn for the worse since last September, when the Japanese government nationalised the disputed Senkaku islands, which the Chinese call Diaoyu and also claim as their own.

Tokyo's move soured ties with Beijing and prompted the Chinese to send surveillance and other ships to the waters around the islands, including making occasional intrusions into territorial waters claimed by Japan for days in a row.

To protect Japan's outlying islands, including the Senkakus, the country's Self-Defence Force (SDF) currently has a 660-strong unit stationed in the south-west that is trained for amphibious operations similar to those undertaken by United States Marines.

The report calls for the unit to be expanded and to be better equipped.

Just on Wednesday, the SDF had scrambled its jets when a Chinese military plane flew through international airspace between two small Japanese islands in the south en route to the Pacific Ocean.

From time to time, Chinese naval vessels have navigated the same route, but this was the first time that Chinese military aircraft have done so.

Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters the latest incident was an indication that "China was increasingly looking to expand its maritime presence".

A Chinese Defence Ministry spokesman yesterday said its aircraft was on a planned training flight over the Pacific and insisted it had the legal right to operate in the area.

To beef up the military's surveillance capability, the Defence Agency's report calls for the adoption of the same sort of drone spy planes used by the US air force.

Without specifically mentioning North Korea's nuclear missile development programme, the report is also expected to draw attention to the need to enhance the SDF's ability to deal with a missile strike, including launching a counter-strike against a hostile missile base.

The release of the report today coincides with Mr Abe's visit to Singapore, his second stop on a tour of three Asean capitals to foster better ties and to discuss maritime security in the face of China's growing naval activities in the region.

Mr Abe, whose party won a convincing victory in recent Upper House polls, is eager to revise Japan's so-called Peace Constitution to allow the SDF to take part in collective self-defence.

This essentially allows the SDF to go to the aid of Japan's security ally, the US, should the latter be attacked by a third party.

To increase the SDF's transportation capability, Japan is said to be considering the adoption of Osprey transport aircraft, which can take off and land like a helicopter.

This hybrid aircraft, 12 of which have been deployed by the US at its Futenma Air Base in Okinawa, was used in a recent joint US-Japan military exercise off the Californian coast.



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