TOKYO - Japan has opened the headquarters of a new unified command for the military's five regional armies and a new amphibious brigade tasked with defending its remote islands.
The new central command station is housed at a military base in Asaka, just north of Tokyo.
The Ground Self-Defence Force (GSDF) last month launched the new Ground Central Command, which will provide unified command over regional armies and the new Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade, similar to the US Marine Corps.
The organisational shake-up is among the biggest in Japan's post-war military history and the biggest for the GSDF since its founding.
The Japanese army, disbanded in 1945, was re-established nine years later but split into five to prevent the concentration of power in the hands of a few senior army officers.
The new Ground Central Command will assume unified command over all ground troops across the country, under the orders of the Defence Minister.
There was no need to worry about civilian control of the military, Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters on Wednesday (April 4).
"Civilian control is thoroughly implemented, unlike under the pre-war Constitution," he added in quotes carried by Reuters.
Unlike the air and maritime branches of the SDF, each with a unified command, the GSDF previously had no central headquarters to control its units across five regional armies, each operating under commanding generals.
Therefore, orders had to be issued to each regional army to mobilise its divisions and brigades.
"We are expecting more situations in which the ground, maritime and air Self-Defence Forces have to work together to rapidly respond at a nationwide level against ballistic missile launches, attacks on islands and major disasters," Mr Onodera said at a news conference last month, emphasising the role of the Ground Component Command in such scenarios.
With all SDF branches now having central commands, the Defence Ministry expects to see smoother joint operations between the services, reported Japan Times.
The new command is also expected to facilitate communication with the US military in Japan. Around 50,000 US troops are based in Japan under a security-treaty alliance.
In recent years, rising security threats, such as North Korea's missile threats and China's challenge to Japan's southern islands, have prompted government officials to highlight the splintered leadership as a weakness that would hinder quick and comprehensive deployment in a crisis.
Hours before the command station opened on Wednesday, Japan reported seeing Chinese coast guard ships sailing for the third successive day in waters near East China Sea islands controlled by Tokyo but claimed by Beijing, reported Wall Street Journal.
China calls the uninhabited islands Diaoyu and Japan refers to them as the Senkakus.
"(China's) unilateral escalation is a matter of strong concern," Mr Onodera said in a speech to mark the opening of the combined army command.
The new Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade is the other highlight of the massive reorganisation. The GSDF's first full-scale amphibious operations unit, it is launched with around 2,100 members mainly drawn from the Western Army's infantry regiment stationed at Camp Ainoura in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture.
The creation of the new unified command is part of a broad review and upgrade of Japan's Self-Defence Forces, which many Japanese still associate more with disaster relief and peacekeeping than warfare.
Though far smaller than most regional rivals, Japan's military is equipped with some of the world's most advanced weaponry.
The country is investing in cruise missiles, at least 42 advanced F-35 fighter jets and a new missile-defence shield.
Last month, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party called for the nation to develop its own aircraft carrier.
Much of Japan's military equipment is American-made, and US President Donald Trump has urged Tokyo to buy more.