Tokyo: Japan plans to procure amphibious landing craft for the Ground Self-Defence Force for the first time and will seek about $38 million in fiscal 2013 appropriations to obtain four such vehicles, ministry sources have said.
The plan is aimed at strengthening Japan's defence capabilities at places such as the Nansei Islands in the East China Sea, where China continues to expand its maritime activities.
The move comes at a time when territorial disputes with South Korea and China, including the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, have generated heat on the diplomatic front.
The ministry appears to be using the visit of South Korean President Lee Myung Bak to a group of disputed islets, known as Takeshima in Japan and Dokdo in South Korea, as well as the landing by a group of Hong Kong activists on the Senkakus earlier this month as a spring board to develop its defence equipment and capabilities, political observers said.
But there remains a legal hurdle for the actual deployment of the vehicles as they are designed for offensive purposes.
Currently, if the GSDF enters a "conflict," it requires the prime minister to issue an order to mobilize the SDF after gaining parliament approval, legal experts said.
The SDF are bound by extremely restrictive rules concerning the use of weapons, except in operations to defend the nation from an armed attack or other acts of aggression by a foreign country.
The ministry plans to get four vehicles, similar to the ones owned by the US Marine Corps, in the year starting 1 April and hopes to add more in the following years.
The four vehicles are expected to be deployed at the GSDF's Western Army Infantry Regiment based in Nagasaki Prefecture, which is charged with defending the Kyushu and Okinawa regions.
On Sunday, Vice Defence Minister Shu Watanabe said on a TV programme, "The Defence Ministry will make a budget request to clearly show what is needed to protect our islands."