Japan to triple civilian transport ships for Self-Defense Forces

Japan is set to triple the number of its contracted civilian ships for priority use to compensate for the Self-Defense Forces' transport capability shortfall in times of military contingencies, including heightened tensions across the Taiwan Strait, sources close to the matter said Thursday.

The government, which plans to increase the number of its contracted civilian vessels from the current two to around six, also plans to conduct research into constructing temporary piers to facilitate the smooth transport of supplies to remote islands where SDF bases are located.

The government intends to include the plans on improving transport capability in the National Defense Program Guidelines, which are slated to be revised by the end of this year, together with the National Security Strategy.

In the event of a contingency, the operation of civilian ships will be entrusted to SDF reservists in addition to SDF personnel.

But gaining the understanding of the ships' operators and securing reservists remains a challenge due to the dangers involved, and may influence the decision of the SDF on whether to deploy in some situations.

SDF missile units have been deployed to the country's southwestern Nansei island chain, stretching more than 1,000 kilometers from Kagoshima Prefecture to Yonaguni Island in Okinawa Prefecture, to cope with China's military activities.

In the event of a contingency, the ability to deploy support units from the mainland in a flexible manner will be crucial.

Based on the results of a training exercise last year, it was determined that at least six civilian ships would be needed to achieve sufficient transport capability.

The SDF's transport capability currently includes three Osumi-class transport vessels and one landing craft utility of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, and seven Air Self-Defense Force C-1 cargo planes.

Two private ships, contracted in 2016 from a special purpose company known as High-speed Marine Transport, are docked at Hakodate port in Hokkaido and Aioi port in Hyogo Prefecture.

The government plans to add up to four more ships in line with the renewal of the contract for fiscal 2023 to 2027, the period of next Medium Term Defense Program. It is also considering acquiring two small transport vessels and several transport vehicles.

© Kyodo News