Photo/IllutrationThe Asahi Shimbun

  • Photo/Illustraion

In its largest reorganization since its founding in 1954, the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) on March 27 established a new organization that will command its five regional armies in an integrated fashion.

The new Ground Component Command (GCC) will allow the GSDF to respond quickly and flexibly on a nationwide scale to major disasters and conflict points in faraway islands.

Until now, defense ministers had directly commanded the regional armies while receiving assistance from the chief of staff of the Joint Staff, the highest-ranking officer of the Self-Defense Forces.

From now on, the GCC will command the regional armies in an integrated manner. The GCC’s role will be the same as those performed by the Self-Defense Fleet of the Maritime SDF and the Air Defense Command of the Air SDF.

The GCC was set up at Camp Asaka, which spans Tokyo’s Nerima Ward and surrounding municipalities, with about 180 members. Of these, 20 will be stationed in Camp Zama in Kanagawa Prefecture and will be engaged in coordination with the command center of the U.S. Army in Japan, located in the same area.

Under the reorganization, the GSDF also established a brigade specializing in defending remote islands in Camp Ainoura in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, and put it under the direct supervision of the GCC.

The Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, modeled after the U.S. Marine Corps, was set up to strengthen the defense of the Nansei islands, a chain of islands between Kyushu's southern tip and Taiwan.

The brigade started with about 2,100 members. However, the number is expected to be increased to 3,000. In addition, other units of the GSDF will be sent from throughout the country to assist the brigade at the time of emergencies, such as if hostilities break out in the Senkaku Islands.

It had been argued for many years that a need existed for the GSDF to establish a center that commands the five regional armies, particularly after the 2011 Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami.

At the time of the twin disasters, the GSDF dispatched its members not only from the Northeastern Army, which is located near areas hit hard by the tsunami, but also from four other regional armies for rescue operations. The total number of GSDF members sent from the four armies exceeded 100,000.

To prepare for such emergencies in the future, it was necessary for the GSDF to set up an organization overseeing the five regional armies. The justification for establishing the GCC was described in the Mid-Term Defense Program worked out in 2013.

However, a high-ranking official of the Defense Ministry said, “Seen from the GSDF units at the front lines, (the establishment of the GCC) only means that another organization was established between them and the defense minister who issues the orders.”