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"Para bellum": Japan will use its civilian facilities in a future war with China

G e N Iuvinale

In order to achieve the goal of "joint military-civilian use" of civilian facilities, the Japanese government released the draft called "preparation of public infrastructure" indicating the first batch of 38 selected civilian facilities, including 14 airports and 24 ports, as reserve bases of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.

China and Japan over the Diaoyu Islands (Senkaku Islands) conflict. Credit: Gettyimages

"The first 38 civilian facilities, including 14 airports and 24 ports, have been selected as alternative bases to be used regularly by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.

Civilian facilities included in exercise scenarios

The Japanese government said the offensive and defensive capabilities of civilian airports and ports will be strengthened to facilitate the deployment of troops and the protection of civilians in wartime. According to the draft, 28 of the first 38 selected civilian facilities (14 airports and 14 ports) are located in Okinawa and Kyushu. Because Okinawa's outlying islands have problems such as short runways for civilian airports and shallow water for civilian ports, which make it impossible to access and operate equipment such as fighter jets, frigates and patrol boats, the draft also examines issues related to the construction of a new port on Unakuni Island in southern Okinawa and the construction of an airport on Hateruma Island.

Beyond the document, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) have already de facto included airports and civilian ports in their annual exercise scenarios. In fact, in the 2023 Japan Self-Defense Forces Global Operational Exercise held not long ago, the Japanese Ministry of Defense organized specific courses on military operations at airports and civilian ports. It was reported that more than 30,000 people, including Japan Self-Defense Force land forces, main fleet and aviation forces and other forces, took part in the exercise, participating with equipment including 3,500 combat vehicles, 20 ships and 210 combat aircraft. At the same time, in order to improve the coordinated combat capability of Japan and the United States, the U.S. Pacific Command sent more than 10,000 people to participate.

During the exercise, a Japan Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF) F-15 fighter jet used Okinawa's Tokunoshima civilian airport to land and take off when the military airport runway was "damaged" by an attack. The Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF) used civilian ports such as Ishigaki, Nakagusukuwan and Yonaguni to conduct troop transport training and used civilian facilities for communications training.

According to Japan's current law on the utilization of specific public facilities, the Japan Self-Defense Forces (SDF) can only use facilities such as airports, ports and roads in extraordinary times, and the use of civilian facilities in normal times requires prior consultation with the local government or the facility manager. This time, the Japanese government plans to establish a new mechanism to solve the procedural problems of the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Maritime Safety Agency's use of civilian infrastructure for regular training and ordinary war preparations from the legal level.

Preparing for war

Chinese military analysts believe that Japan's release of the draft "Public Infrastructure Preparation" to expand dual-use infrastructure represents the country's willingness to prepare itself in future involvement in conflict.

In this way, Japan intends to pursue two main goals.

The first is the strengthening of combat preparedness with a focus on warfare. Indeed, Japan's Self-Defense Forces have clearly incorporated civilian facilities within the scope of peacetime military applications, demonstrating a tough attitude, which means that their way of thinking about war preparedness has changed, and this "combat-oriented" trend is worthy of attention, Chinese military analysts argue.

Second, the focus is on strengthening operational capabilities in the southwest of the country. The first group of facilities selected for "civilian-military shared use" to be renovated and expanded is mostly located inbfact in the southwestern direction, which means that Japan views this area (ergo China) as a potential advanced battlefield and has promoted the use of civilian airfields and ports by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) to conduct regular training with the intention of improving their control in that direction.

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