The Ground Self-Defense Force established on Tuesday new bases on Amami-Oshima island in Kagoshima Prefecture and Miyakojima island in Okinawa Prefecture to enhance the defense of the nation’s southwestern Nansei Islands.
On Amami-Oshima island, surface-to-air and surface-to-ship missile units were deployed, with the latter marking their first deployment in the Nansei Islands.
Surface-to-air and surface-to-ship missile units are also scheduled to be deployed next fiscal year to the Miyakojima base, which was inaugurated on the same day.
The GSDF also plans to go ahead with a similar deployment on Ishigakijima island in Okinawa Prefecture.
The new deployment is aimed at putting a check on China, a country that has been making maritime advances in the area.
According to the GSDF, surface-to-ship missile unit personnel have been stationed at the Setouchi base in southern Amami city, and a surface-to-air missile unit personnel have been stationed at the Amami base in northern Amami city. Together with security unit personnel at each location, the new deployment includes a total of 550 troops.
At the Miyakojima base, about 380 personnel of a security unit have been deployed in advance, while personnel of surface-to-air missile and surface-to-ship missile units will be deployed in fiscal 2019, bringing the total number of GSDF troops there to 700 to 800. On Ishigakijima island, the GSDF obtained part of the land for the new base and started building it earlier this month.
In the waters and airspace surrounding the Nansei Islands, China has been conducting its military activities actively in recent years. In July 2013, Chinese military aircraft for the first time passed between the main island of Okinawa and Miyakojima island. In December 2016, China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, also passed the same area. Meanwhile, trespassing by Chinese government ships in waters around the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture have become an almost normal occurrence.
In response to these moves, the Defense Ministry in March 2016 deployed about 160 troops of a coastal patrol unit in the country’s westernmost point, Yonagunijima island in Okinawa Prefecture, moving ahead with reinforcing the defense capability on the Nansei Islands, other than the main island of Okinawa.
The surface-to-ship missiles to be deployed in the three islands of Amami-Oshima, Miyakojima and Ishigakijima are said to have a range of 150 to 200 kilometers. Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said at a press conference on Tuesday that the new deployment will not only fill “vacuum zones” in the defense of the Nansei area, but also enable the SDF to deal swiftly with situations such as natural disasters, thus emphasizing the significance of the deployment.