The US and Japan have announced a significant strengthening of their military relationship and upgrade of the US military’s force posture in Japan including the stationing of a newly redesignated Marine unit with advanced intelligence, surveillance capabilities and the ability to fire anti-ship missiles.
On Wednesday, January 11, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said during a press conference with Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Japanese Foreign Minister Hayashi Yoshimasa, and Japanese Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu, that the 12th Marine Regiment, an artillery regiment, would be redesignated as the 12th Marine Littoral Regiment.
“We’re replacing an artillery regiment with an outfit that’s, that’s more lethal, more agile, more capable,” he said, adding that the move would “bolster deterrence in the region and allow us to defend Japan and its people more effectively.”
In addition to the restructuring of Marines in the country, the US and Japan announced on Wednesday January 11, that they are expanding their defense treaty to include attacks to or from space amid growing concern about the rapid advancement of China’s space program and hypersonic weapons development.
The two allies announced that Article V of the US-Japan Security Treaty, first signed in 1951, applies to attacks from or within space, officials said. In 2019, the US and Japan made it clear that the defense treaty applies to cyberspace and that a cyber attack could constitute an armed attack under certain circumstances.
“We’re working to deepen our cooperation across every realm: Land, sea, air, and yes, space – cyber and outer,” Blinken said Wednesday.
“The outer space component of this is important security and prosperity of our alliance. We agree, as you’ve heard, that attacks to, from, or within space present a clear challenge, and we affirm that depending on the nature of those attacks this could lead to the invocation of Article V of our Japan-US security treaty.”
The announcement is a signal to China and is part of a series of initiatives meant to underscore a rapid acceleration of security and intelligence ties between the countries.
The officials met on Wednesday as part of the annual US-Japan Security Consultative 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 will be able to defend Japan and quickly respond to contingencies, US officials said Wednesday.
The city of Okinawa is viewed as key to the US military’s operations in the Pacific due to its close proximity to Taiwan. It houses more than 25,000 US military personnel and more than two dozen military installations.
Roughly 70% of the US military bases in Japan are on Okinawa; one island within the Okinawa Prefecture, Yonaguni, sits less than 70 miles from Taiwan.
It underscores the Pentagon’s desire to shift from the wars of the past in the Middle East to the region of the future in the Indo-Pacific. The change comes as simulated war games from a Washington think tank found 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.