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Japan Shifting Amphibious, Coastal Defense Units Closer to China; Australia Boosts its Own Capability

Sailors launch Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) and soldiers assigned the Japan Ground Self Defense Force from the well-deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) during amphibious assault training in June 2015. US Navy photo.

Sailors launch Marines assigned to the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit (31st MEU) and soldiers assigned the Japan Ground Self Defense Force from the well-deck of the amphibious transport dock ship USS Green Bay (LPD 20) during amphibious assault training in June 2015. US Navy photo.

Japan is boosting its amphibious and coastal defense capabilities, shifting security personnel to outer islands and converting ground forces into amphibious units capable of defending those islands from attack.

The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) is increasing its amphibious capability with an eye on its southwestern-most islands – past Okinawa, all the way to its farthest inhabited island of Yonaguni, which sits closer to mainland China than it does to Okinawa. With only two Japan Air Self-Defense Force radar sites between Okinawa and Yonaguni, the Japanese ground force has taken a renewed interest in protecting these islands, Col. Masashi Yamamoto, military attaché at the Embassy of Japan in Washington, said last week at a Center for Strategic and International Studies event.

Yamamoto said that four weeks ago the JGSDF activated a coast observation unit on Yonaguni for the first time since World War II. He told USNI News after the event that future coastal security units would be set up in the southwestern islands, pulling troops from other parts of the country to focus on about 200 islands as far as 680 miles from mainland Japan.

Additionally, an infantry regiment in the Western Army is being converted to an amphibious regiment – one of two that will create the first amphibious brigade by March 2018. Whereas the infantry regiment is designed to deploy to an island and protect it from foreign invasion, the amphibious regiment would have the capability to move from island to island, landing in contested environments if an enemy – specifically China, though Yamamoto did not single the country out – were to take Japanese territory.

The amphibious force will be housed in the JGSDF rather than the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) – whereas the U.S. Marine Corps resides within the Navy instead of the Army – and the two Japanese forces are in the beginning stages of learning how to operate together.

Yamamoto, an armor officer by trade, said the Ministry of Defense will procure 17 MV-22 Ospreys and 52 AAV-7 amphibious assault vehicles, also called amtracks, between fiscal years 2014 and 2018. However, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force’s three amphibious dock landing ships (LSDs) are designed for Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) operations. The JMSDF has money in the budget to strengthen the ships’ stern gates and make other modifications to prepare for amtracks instead of LCACs, Yamamoto said.

“We finished the aligning of the amphibious brigade, and we have the budget for the acquisition of amtracks and Ospreys, but that is not enough,” he said.
“We need well-trained and educated Self Defense Force members because amtracks and Ospreys are quite new equipment for us and we need to build this ability from scratch. … However, we have a good friend who is very familiar with amphibious operations. That is the Marine.”

Japanese officers and non-commissioned officers are attending the Marine Corps University and the Expeditionary Warfare School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., he said. Japanese forces also teamed up with Marines at Camp Pendleton in California earlier this year for Iron First 2016, going to sea on an amphibious transport dock and learning to plan ship-to-shore operations. The infantry regiment being converted has experience only with small reconnaissance boats, so the unit’s leaders will need the Marine Corps’ help with everything from mastering AAV operations from the sea to the shore, to planning operations, to coordinating with the JMSDF and international navies.

Yamamoto said at the event that the JGSDF has been trying to participate in both amphibious and non-amphibious exercises in the Pacific recently to help boost interoperability with potential partners beyond just the United States as it grows its amphibious force – and special attention has been paid to Australia, which is also in the process of growing an amphibious capability of its own.

Soldiers from the Japan Ground Self Defense Force recover aboard Landing Craft Utility 1631 after participating in an amphibious assault exercise with Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit during Talisman Sabre 2015, an amphibious exercise between the United States and Australia. US Navy photo.

Soldiers from the Japan Ground Self Defense Force recover aboard Landing Craft Utility 1631 after participating in an amphibious assault exercise with Marines from the 31st Marine Expeditionary Unit during Talisman Sabre 2015, an amphibious exercise between the United States and Australia. US Navy photo.

In some ways, the amphibious cooperation between the two counties seems odd – Yamamoto said Japan’s amphibious brigade “of course may be employed for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief,” but its primary mission will be high-end contested landings to protect the Japanese homeland. Australia, on the other hand, has a stated goal of creating “a standing and scalable joint force capable of executing the full spectrum of amphibious operations” – though former Australian National Security Adviser and current CSIS visiting fellow Andrew Shearer said at the same event that the forces would focus on humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and, for now at least, only ramp up to a “landing in what you might call uncertain environments. You’ll note that what’s envisaged doesn’t go to the highest capability, a contested landing.” That capability, he said, may be added in the long-term but would not be a near-term focus.

Still, both Yamamoto and Shearer said the same basic skills and tactics apply throughout the range of amphibious operations, and in that sense the two forces can learn together. If Japan is in the crawl stage, as Yamamoto said, then Shearer said Australia is “crawling too, I think we’re crawling a little more slowly than Japan” – but it is important that they “crawl step by step together so the pathways are parallel” and the two forces can operate together in the future.

Australian forces have so far demonstrated an amphibious landing in a permissive environment, a demonstration based around a single amphibious assault ship. Shearer said that by 2017 the Australian amphibious forces should be able to demonstrate a two-ship operation that lands a force in an uncertain environment.

The U.S. Marine Corps cannot be everywhere all the time, Shearer said, and the force currently has 30 amphibious ships compared to a stated need of 38. To help make up for the American shipping shortfall, “we should have as an aspiration that U.S. Marines and their equipment, their weapons, their vehicles, their helicopters, can operate seamlessly off of one of Australia’s amphibious platforms,” Shearer said.
“And I think the same in the case of the Japanese, and also that our various enablers can work over time increasingly seamlessly together, so that in effect what we end up with is a highly capable amphibious capacity in the region that can surge and can also backfill to make up, for example, for U.S. capacity where the U.S. is otherwise engaged.

“I know it’s ambitious, I know there are lots of issues … nonetheless, I think we should set the goal high, and if we do that, especially in Australia –Japan-US because they’re the most capable maritime powers in the region, what we can do is create a network rather than the more traditional hub-and-spoke model whereby the three countries can work to raise the capability of other countries in the region,” he continued.

  • FedUpWithWelfareStates

    Time for the CRRC (Zodiac F-470) to be utilized in its proper mode, which is NOT as the connector for an Infantry Raid Company to hit the beach with.

    The CRRC is an SOF insertion/extraction inflatable platform, designed to be stealthily inserted by highly trained SOF amphibious units under the cover of darkness. Air Droppable, Locked out of Submarines, launched from Destroyers, etc., the CRRC is an SOF mode of transportation ONLY!

    Now, before all of the arm chair commandos & USNI bridge qualified desk jockeys get their panties in a wad…my creds in this field are that I “Wrote the Book” on this subject back when we were still utilizing “Itty Bitty Ships (IBS)” & on up to the inclusion of CRRCs, then RIBs. I was the Lead Instructor for both Amphibious Raids (wet deck/dry deck launches, Small craft coxswain course, scout swimmer course, maritime navigation course, & Helocast Master course, just to name a few) & Amphibious Reconnaissance (All areas), having written the Lesson Plans & taught all aspects of this business, so I know what I speak of in this business, if not anything else.

    The Amphibious Raid Mission, of which IMHO should be the Centerpiece of the USMC mission (NOT outdated Amphibious Assaults in a non-permissive environment), should be supported by RIBs only, as this is NOT a quiet, stealthy mission, but more of a “Get in fast, break things, kill people, then Get out fast,” job for Steely Eyed Killers wearing the EG&A, all of which the CRRC is NOT designed to do with such a large load, heavily weighted down with gear clanking Marines, in such large numbers of craft.

    “If it cannot survive coming through the surf zone, immersed in sea water, covered with sand, then the USMC does NOT need it!”

    • Curtis Conway

      What equipment and tactics should be used when taking territory one does not intend to give back. Remember the Japanese are preparing to recapture THEIR islands invaded by somebody else. I don’t see them running from the very beach or island they just liberated (in their mind sovereign Japan).

    • Papi G

      METTSLC is really the driving factor as with any mission. Better to be trained and ready then not be ready if and when the mission dictates it. Not sure I fully grasp the rationale on the SOF only insert use platform…yes for certain missions but not for all. You can still maintain a “stealthily” insert with a larger number of CRRC’s in waves, while still maintaining the element, all while closing any gap to fire superiority. And RIBS won’t work when the “T” for terrain, i.e. reef a long the islands that Curtis points out are at any given distance from the shoreline. CRRCs will work with the right number on board and with the right engine (55)…and if the command can’t obtain the number required to execute the mission then its probably not going to be conducive to mission success anyway.

    • publius_maximus_III

      The above photos are from the Talisman Sabre 2015 exercise. Under “Related” follow the link to another USNI article, this one on the Iron Fist 2016 exercise, which includes photos of some more substantial amphibious landing craft, including a Landing Craft Air Cushion (LCAC) and several Amphibious Assault Vehicles (AAVs), described as a “battalion-sized amphibious landing exercise.” Perhaps the 2015 joint training exercise depicted above with smaller inflatables was for a much smaller landing party?

      Regards,
      publius_maximus_III
      USNI Desk Jockey, First Class

  • ULISES

    THIS EXERCISE IS VERY SUCCESSFULL BECAUSE THE MILITARY COOPERATION BETWEEN TWO COUNTRIES . USA AND JAPAN.

  • John B. Morgen

    The JMSDF is going to need a lot more amphibious warships and craft; plus, the JGSDF is going to need a lot more troops. In sum, the Japan’s defense budget needs to be increase by 50% or more, if Japan wants to defend those outing islands.
    As for the Australia, it also needs to increase its forces more than 100% because their amphibious forces are quite smaller than the JMSDF’s forces. In sum, because China’s increase of defense spending and aggressive behavior in the Western Pacific, our allies, including the United States need to increase our defense spending. The United States needs to shift more warships into the Pacific.

    • DVader

      The obvious thing to do is to beef up their coastal defenses so that they won’t have to retake the islands in the first place.

      • John B. Morgen

        Indeed! Coastal forts need to be built and manned, with patrolling warships and aircraft of the JMSDF nearby.

        • DVader

          Probably better off with networked mobile weapons. Fixed fortifications were monuments to the stupidity of man even before PGMs.

          • John B. Morgen

            At some level I would agree that fixed fortifications are out-dated, but depots for resupply would be fixed. Of course, it all depends on the sizes of the islands that are in question.

          • Secundius

            Just though you might be interested. But the Daily Mail (British) just announced that HMS Prince of Wales might be Sold Off. And that the Brazilian Navy is Interested in Buying. Sale is Scheduled for Sometime between 2017 and 2020. I Think the US Navy should Consider Buying S/HE. A 60-plane Medium Aircraft Carrier is Better than NO Aircraft Carrier. I Know, the “Jones Act? The US Army can Buy S/HE, their Exempted by the “Jones” Act. And They’ve bought Naval Ship’s Before. Maybe a First for the US Army, Their Own Aircraft Carrier. USA version of the PRC’s PLAN (USAN). Maybe this way, No Matter How they Play the Football Game, They STILL WIN…

          • John B. Morgen

            That’s kind of odd for the British to sale their latest aircraft carrier; especially, to Brazil of all nation-states. As for the United States Army buying it, I think it’s a good idea because the Army does have a fleet of ships and craft. In fact, during World War II the Army almost had as many ships and craft more than the Navy. Indeed, the Army could buy the British aircraft carrier, and then loan it to the Navy for ex-amount of years. Because both services have interchanged ships before over the years; the aircraft carrier would filled in our carrier gap problem. Although buying both British aircraft carriers would be nice. Thank you for the information!

          • Secundius

            NEVER Said that Britain was Selling to Brazil? ONLY Said that the Brazilians were Interested, and that the British Might Sell. According to the Daily Mail, the Royal Navy can’t Afford to Operate and Maintain TWO Carrier’s on their Limited Defense Budget. And Supply their Navy with Other Ship’s that are ALSO Needed.

            US Army in WW2 also Maintain a Fleet of Harbor Ship’s. Designed to Maintain and Fortify Forward Operating Fleet Naval Bases in the Pacific and the Atlantic Theater of Operation. Also of British Design, but Improved by Henry J. Kaiser…

          • John B. Morgen

            The United States Army operated their own troop transports during the World War II, besides operating harbor craft

          • Secundius

            STILL DO!

          • John B. Morgen

            I guess the Army don’t trust the Navy for transporting their heavy equipment from afar.

          • Secundius

            I’m just suggesting that the US Army BUY the “POW”, and Resell it to the Navy. Being “Exempted” of the “Jones” Act of 1920. There should be a Problem, Unless Congress Makes it a PROBLEM…

          • John B. Morgen

            There should not be problem because we bought British built ships before from the Royal Navy; in fact, three supply ships.

          • Secundius

            But that was under the Lend Lease Act of March 1941. When the Second World War Ended in December 1946, so did Lend Lease. Though “Officially” it was a 99-year Act. Congress would have to Reinstate the Act or Terminate the “Jones” Act…

  • Aussie Andrew

    The top pic looks like Turkish migrants in trouble in overloaded rubber duckie.