Japan is taking another step closer to fielding a Marine Corps-like brigade that would defend its southwestern territory, amid increasing tensions with China over who rightfully owns islands in the East China Sea.
A combined U.S.-Japan scenario in the Northern Marianas to retake an island during the Keen Sword exercise this week represents a major philosophical shift — one that some military analysts say is overdue — from the land-focused strategy long employed by Japan’s Self-Defense Forces.
The 2,100-member Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, planned for activation by March 2018, could be used for various missions, including quicker humanitarian relief after a natural disaster.
But analysts say its deterrent effect against Chinese claims on Japan-controlled territory will be the brigade’s greatest contribution.
Beijing has deemed the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands an “indisputable” part of China and declared an air defense identification zone over them in 2013.
The U.S. is obligated to defend the Senkakus and any other Japanese territory under the terms of a security treaty with Japan.