Japan set to develop unit of elite troops
Defence ministry responds to lawmakers’ appeal to bolster forces in sovereignty row after analysis finds existing units not up to the task
Julian Ryall in Tokyo
Japan has outlined plans for a unit made up of elite troops trained to assault and recapture a remote part of its territory in the event of it being invaded.
The proposal was put forward on Wednesday by the Ministry of Defence in reply to the ruling Liberal Democratic Party's request seeking ways to bolster the country's defence surrounding the disputed islands that Japan calls the Senkaku Islands and China calls the Diaoyus.
Both mainland China and Taiwan claim the islands as their sovereign territory and Beijing has dramatically increased surveillance of the area.
The proposal reportedly calls for the 680-strong unit to be created under the next defence programme outline, after an analysis found existing units could not protect the islands.
The troops would exercise with their US counterparts, including in amphibious landings.
The specialist force will carry out regular exercises with elements of the civilian police force and the Japan Coast Guard. Another of its duties might be to prevent "terrorist" attacks against Japan's nuclear power plants.
But some analysts believe it may take several years before the unit is prepared for its mission.
"I don't think it will be very easy for the Self-Defence Forces to establish this kind of unit, for two very important reasons," Masafumi Iida, a China expert at Japan's National Institute of Defence Studies, said.
"The first problem is the lack of a budget, but more important than that is the lack of co-ordination between the ground, air and maritime arms of the Japanese military. The three services are making efforts to strengthen that co-ordination and to deal with future challenges, but a combined unit will be difficult to achieve."
About 1,000 Japanese military personnel from across the three services are taking part in unprecedented exercises with US forces in California.
The scenario for the two-week amphibious exercise, named Dawn Blitz, is utilising assets to recapture a remote island.
For the purposes of the drill, the island has not been given a name and the Ministry of Defence in Tokyo has emphasised that the practice landings are not aimed at any particular territory.
And although the situation around the disputed islands has been relatively peaceful of late, analysts here believe this is merely a lull in the Chinese encroachment into Japanese territory.
"It is possible that it is related to the visit by President Xi Jinping to the United States for talks with President Barack Obama," Iida suggested.
"For the Chinese side, it would not look good if they were making assertive actions at the same time that Xi was in the US.
"But I believe this is just a short-term position and that China will start to take aggressive actions again sooner or later."