Joint Task Force-Tohoku is the Japan Self-Defense Forces’ first-ever operationally deployed joint task force, commanding Ground, Air, and Maritime Self Defense Force units. JTF-Tohoku is commanded by Lieutenant General Eiji Kimizuka of the Ground Self Defense Forces. This is a big deal.
Japan’s armed forces have a history of maddening parochialism. During the Second World War, the Army and Navy bitterly struggled for national resources and overall control of the Imperial Armed Forces. Both had competing strategies and policies that they wished to impose on Japan. The Imperial Army and Navy both maintained separate air forces, even having their own separate fighter designs, as well as separate marine infantry and paratroop units. It is said that both services fought a war not only against the Allies, but the other service as well.
Even through the Cold War, the GSDF, ASDF, and MSDF were notoriously separate from one another. The problems this brought were not immediately obvious, since the SDF was a pacifist, defense-only military that was never tested by war. But it must have been obvious to those inside the SDF that the Americans, who excellent at joint operations and who frequently drilled with the Japanese, benefitted considerably from the lack of friction and cooperation among the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. As a result, recently there has been an emphasis among the SDF sister services to bring the concept of “jointness” to Japan. As the existence of JTF-Tohoku has pointed out, the effort has been successful.
In addition to disaster relief/humanitarian assistance, the joint task force concept will be particularly crucial in pursuit of Japan’s new “dynamic defense” doctrine. “Dynamic Defense”, which emphasizes the ability to deploy defensive forces into remote areas of Japan’s far-flung archipelago, will require joint operations from the start. GSDF troops will need to be shuttled around in ASDF transports. ADSF ships will need to clear the airspace to allow MSDF ships to operate. MSDF ships will need to provide gunfire support to GSDF troops. This will not only require a unity of effort, but of command as well. Despite the tragic circumstances, the establishment of JTF Tohoku will provide the SDF with tremendous experience in joint operations that will affect how the organization prepares for and fights wars.