The US and Japan announced a major strengthening of their military relationship and an upgrade of the US military’s force posture in the country on Wednesday, including the deployment of a newly re-designated naval unit with advanced intelligence, surveillance and anti-ship missile capabilities. according to two US officials briefed on the matter.
US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a press conference with Secretary of State Anthony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa and Japanese Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu that the 12th Marines Artillery Battalion will be redesignated the 12th Marine Regiment.
“We are replacing an artillery battalion with an outfit that is more lethal, more agile, more capable,” he said, adding that the move “will strengthen deterrence in the region and allow us to defend Japan and its people more effectively.”
The announcement sends a strong signal to China and came as part of a series of initiatives designed to emphasize the rapid acceleration of security and intelligence ties between the countries.
The officials met Wednesday as part of the annual US-Japan Security Advisory Committee meeting, days before President Joe Biden plans to meet with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida at the White House.
The newly revamped Marine unit will be based on Okinawa and is designed to provide a standing force capable of defending Japan and responding quickly to emergencies, US officials said Wednesday. Okinawa is seen as key to US military operations in the Pacific – in part because of its proximity to Taiwan. It is home to more than 25,000 U.S. military personnel and more than two dozen military installations. About 70 percent of U.S. military bases in Japan are in Okinawa; one island in Okinawa Prefecture, Yunaguni, lies less than 70 miles from Taiwan, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.
This is one of the most significant adjustments to the position of American military power in the region in years, one official said, emphasizing the Pentagon’s desire to move from past wars in the Middle East to the future in the Indo-Pacific region. . The change comes as simulated war games from a prominent Washington think tank revealed that Japan, and Okinawa in particular, would play a critical role in a military conflict with China, providing the United States with forward deployment and basing options.
“I think it’s fair to say that, in my opinion, 2023 could stand as the most transformative year in the US power posture in the region in a generation,” said Eli Ratner, assistant secretary of defense for Indo-Pacific security. Affairs, at the American Enterprise Institute last month.
The news follows the stand-up of 1st Marine Battalion in Hawaii last year, in which 3rd Marine Battalion in Hawaii became 3rd Marine Corps Battalion – a key part of the Marine Corps’ modernization effort, outlined in the 2030 Force Design report by Maj. Gen. David Berger.
As the service described them, the Marine Corps battalions are a “mobile, low-signature” unit capable of conducting strikes, coordinating air and missile defense, and supporting surface warfare.
The Washington Post first reported the soon-to-be-announced changes.
In addition to restructuring the nation’s marines, the United States and Japan announced Wednesday that they are expanding their defense treaty to include attacks into or from space, amid growing concern over China’s rapidly advancing space program and hypersonic weapons development.
In November, China launched three astronauts to its nearly completed space station, as Beijing tries to establish a long-term presence in space. China has also explored the far side of the Moon and Mars.
The two allies announced that Article V of the US-Japan Defense Treaty, first signed in 1951, applies to attacks from or in space, officials said. In 2019, the US and Japan clarified that the defense treaty applies to cyberspace and that A cyber attack can constitute an armed attack under certain circumstances.
“We are working to deepen our cooperation in every domain: land, sea, air, and yes, space – cyber and outer space,” Blinken said Wednesday. “The outer space component of this is the important security and prosperity of our alliance. We agree, as you have heard, that attacks to, from or in space present a clear challenge, and we acknowledge that depending on the nature of these attacks, this could lead to the triggering of Article V of our Security Treaty Japan- U.S. .”
Blinken added that he and Yoshimasa will sign a space agreement later this week during a visit to NASA headquarters in Washington. In a statement issued by NASA on Wednesday, it was said that the agreement “will build on the nations’ commitment to quiet and transparent space exploration.”
The US has watched closely as China rapidly developed its hypersonic weapons systems, including one missile in 2021 that circled the globe before launching a hypersonic drone that hit its target. It was a wake-up call for the US, which has lagged behind China and Russia in advanced hypersonic technology.
The two countries will also build on their joint use of facilities in Japan and conduct additional exercises in Japan’s southwestern islands, a move that is sure to anger Beijing, given its proximity to Taiwan and even mainland China. US officials added that the US will temporarily deploy MQ-9 Reaper drones to Japan for maritime surveillance of the East China Sea, as well as launch a bilateral group to analyze and share the information.
The announcements came less than a month after Japan unveiled a new national security plan that signals the country’s biggest military buildup since World War II, doubled defense spending and deviated from its pacifist constitution in the face of growing threats from regional rivals, including China.
China is increasing its naval and air forces in areas near Japan while claiming the Senkaku Islands, an uninhabited Japanese-controlled chain in the East China Sea, as sovereign territory.
In late December, Japan said Chinese government vessels had been sighted in the contiguous area around the Sankakus, known as the Diaoyus in China, 334 days in 2022, the most since 2012, when Tokyo acquired part of the islands from a private, public Japanese landowner. This was reported by broadcaster NHK. Between Dec. 22 and 25, Chinese government ships spent nearly 73 consecutive hours in Japanese territorial waters off the islands, the longest incursion since 2012, the NHK report said.
China is also increasing its military pressure on Taiwan, the self-governing island that Japanese leaders have said is vital to Japan’s own security. In August, that pressure included Beijing firing five missiles that landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone near Taiwan in response to then-US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei.
Even before the announcement of the increased partnership between the US and Japan was even made public, Chinese government officials responded to reports in the Japanese media.
“US-Japan military cooperation should not harm the interests of any third party or undermine peace and stability in the region,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said at a regular press briefing in Beijing on Tuesday.
An official at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs explained that the war in Ukraine and the strengthening of relations between China and Russia spurred the US and Japan to reach a series of new agreements that have been under consideration for some time.
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has somewhat shifted things into a warp drive,” the official said. “The relationship between Putin and Xi Jinping that we saw before the Beijing Olympics showed, wait a minute, the Russians and the Chinese are working in new ways. We are facing new challenges.”
And it’s not just the US – Japan and Britain also announced on Wednesday that the two countries will sign a “historic defense agreement” that will allow them to deploy forces in each other’s countries.
The mutual access agreement will allow the two forces to plan larger and more complex military exercises and deployments, making it “the most significant defense agreement between the two countries for more than a century,” according to a statement from Downing Street on Wednesday. .
The agreement still needs to be ratified by the respective parliaments before it enters into force. It will be put before the Diet of Japan and the British Parliament in the coming weeks, according to the statement.