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USFJ Reform Plans: Creation of New Joint Forces, Strengthened Authority; Some are concerned about the ‘complicated’ coordination


Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Members of the Self-Defense Forces conduct landing training during a joint Japan-U.S. training with the U.S. Marine Corps in Tokunoshima, Kagoshima Prefecture, in March 2023.

HONOLULU – The U.S. government plans to reorganize U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) to strengthen its command functions in Japan as the U.S. Armed Forces’ Self-Defense Forces and command and control system comes under scrutiny.

Two reform proposals have emerged within the government. The first proposal is to create a new joint task force, based in Japan, which would work with the SDF and enable an integrated command between the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines.

Currently, a U.S. Air Force lieutenant general serves as the USFJ commander, but plans are underway to fill the command post of the newly created joint task force with a general-level commander from the Pacific Fleet who would command the USFJ while he traveled back and forth. between Japan and the Indo-Pacific Command in Hawaii.

The second proposal is to strengthen the authority of the USFJ command. According to the proposal, the position of USFJ headquarters at Yokota Air Base in Tokyo will be fundamentally overhauled. While operational command authority will essentially remain in Hawaii, authority for planning, training and other coordination will be transferred from Hawaii to the USFJ.

This idea is promoted by experts like Christopher Johnstone, a senior adviser and Japan chairman at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, who spent many years in the Pentagon and White House in charge of Japan. These experts insist that a lieutenant general, whose counterpart would be the deputy commander of the SDF Joint Operations Command, should be appointed as USFJ commander. The proposal also calls for the establishment of a permanent bilateral joint planning and coordination agency in Japan.

While many in Japan welcome the steps that strengthen the USFJ’s authority, some express concerns.

“The number of decision-making points will increase, and coordination between the armed forces of Japan and the US will be quite complicated,” said a former senior SDF official.

Within the US Armed Forces, the Navy and Air Force are expected to compete for control of the USFJ after the realignment.

Resistance is expected from the Indo-Pacific Command, whose authority will be reduced if the USFJ’s authority is strengthened.

A senior US Department of Defense official made no secret of the many challenges ahead. The Pentagon plans to accelerate the adjustments by setting a deadline of March 2025, when the SDF Joint Operations Command is scheduled to be established.

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