US forces in Japan to increase combat readiness in 2019

A new base and 1st missile drills planned in Okinawa, along with new site for aircraft carrier landing practice, the US-Japan alliance remains a 'cornerstone of peace' in Indo-Pacific

US Navy Photo

US Navy Photo

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) – In the week since acting U.S. Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said the military’s primary focus is “China, China, China,” on Jan.2, the U.S. is making clear moves towards shifting global military operations away from the Middle East and refocusing them in the Indo-Pacific, especially around Japan.

Earlier this week, the Commander of U.S. Forces Japan, Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez, stressed the importance of increasing the U.S. defense capability around Japan “amid rapid changes in the surrounding security environment,” noting China’s “aggression” and “expansion.”

Martinez, who is preparing to leave his position after 27 months, spoke at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo this week to underscore the importance of the U.S.-Japan alliance for security in the region.

“Our alliance is built on shared values: respect for the rule of law and a commitment to freedom and prosperity for all. It’s an alliance that fundamentally respects the sovereignty of other nations while resisting coercion and aggression in all forms.”

The commander noted that Japan is host to some of the U.S. military’s most advanced defensive technology and weapons platforms. He stressed that the regions’ rapidly shifting security environment means U.S. and Japanese forces must be prepared for any contingency.

File photo: outgoing Commander of U.S. Forces Japan, Jerry Martinez (Associated Press Photo)

At the start of the year, it is already clear that the U.S. is making military preparedness in the Indo-Pacific region a priority in 2019.

On Jan. 3, Japanese media reported that the U.S. will be stationing surface-to-ship missile batteries in Okinawa this year, and will conduct the “first ever” U.S. missile drills from the base in the prefecture.

While specific details and dates for the deployment of the mobile rocket launchers has not been revealed, analysts consider the move as a counter to potential ballistic missile attacks from Chinese territory or Chinese naval vessels, reports Japan Today.

On Jan. 9, it was reported that the Japanese government had approved the purchase of a small island belonging to Kagoshima Prefecture, which will likely become a site for the U.S. Navy to conduct Field Carrier Landing Practice (FCLP).

The island in Japan’s southwest is called Mageshima, and is reportedly being purchased for 16 billion Japanese Yen (US$148 million), and is expected to be acquired by March. For decades, U.S. aircraft carriers practicing short range missions and aircraft landing drills have used the island of Iwo Jima, reports Japan Times.

The U.S. and Japan will also continue to develop the new military base in Okinawa’s Nago district, which will shift military operations away from the densely populated city of Ginowan once it is completed. However, the new base’s construction has been controversial.

Preliminary construction site of Henoko Air Force Base, Oct. 2018 (Associated Press Photo)

Speaking on the issue, Gen. Martinez said that it is the“bilaterally agreed solution” between the Japan and the U.S. and it will “decrease the activity around Futenma while still allowing the United States to maintain security operations,” reports Japan News.

Speaking on the need for continued cooperation between the two countries, Martinez called the U.S.-Japan alliance the “cornerstone of Peace in the region." He was quoted in a press release.

“Our presence in Japan and the region is a deterrent against those countries who leverage coercion and intimidation to influence other nations economic, diplomatic and security decisions. We must remain ready to serve as a credible deterrent to fight and win if others close the path of aggression.”

Recently at the Raisina Dialogue in India, a Japanese admiral said that the Japanese Navy is also concerned with recent trends in Chinese military activity and rhetoric from political and military leaders.