“The Japanese Cabinet approved a two-year extension of Japan’s air force mission in Iraq after it expires in July, the foreign minister announced Friday,” the Associated Press reports:
Tokyo has been airlifting U.N. and coalition personnel and supplies into Baghdad and other Iraqi cities from nearby Kuwait since earlier last year as part of efforts to support reconstruction in Iraq.
The deployment involves just four Lockheed Martin C-130s, compared to scores of similar airlifters provided by the U.S. and British militaries. But for Japan, even this modest deployment is a big deal. “The Iraq mission is part of Japan’s bid to boost its international profile,” the AP story continues. But it’s more complicated than that. In fact, Japan has been quite media-shy about its contributions to the Iraq occupation. I was briefly embedded with the Australian troops who provided security for the Japanese Army contingent building a power plant in southern Iraq; the Aussies told me that even they weren’t allowed on the Nipponese compound, so of course I’d never get anywhere near it.
Deeply ingrained pacifism in Japan means the country’s military is taking careful first steps into the the international arena. Greater Japanese involvement in military coalitions will require significant logistics support. And what better way to train your support troops than to send them to Iraq or Afghanistan? Indeed, after 9/11 Japan quietly sent supply ships to the Indian Ocean to assist the U.S. Navy attacking Afghanistan, Znet explains:
Deployments began with the dispatch of the supply ship Hamana (8,150 tons) and its destroyer escorts Kurama (DDH — Shirane-class, 4,400 tons) and Kirisame (DD — Murakame-class, 5,200 tons). The stated purpose of the contingent was to provide a Japanese re-fuelling capacity to the multinational forces operating in the Indian Ocean against Afghanistan following the U.S. attack prompted by the 9/11 bombing attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. In December the following year, after considerable controversy inside the ruling party and cabinet, Aegis-air defense system-equipped Kongo-class destroyers were included amongst the escort vessels, ostensibly to meet the air defense needs of the supply ships. As of the beginning of 2006, the supply ship Tokiwa had been on station for a month, escorted by the same Kirisame.
All this exercise is great and all, but to transform into a genuine expeditionary power, the Japanese “self-defense forces” are going to require serious reforms. The island nation’s military is heavy on fighter jets, tanks and attack choppers — all weapons suited for territorial defense — but short on the airlifters, transport choppers, amphibious and cargo ships and logistics troops that make the U.S. and Great Britain the world’s foremost deploying powers. That might change somewhat with Japan’s planned development of an indigenous airlifter, Defense News reports.