Editor’s Note: The following piece was submitted to us by SOFREP reader Cory Bravo.

We thank Cory for his submission and remind all SOFREP readers that they are welcome to send articles at any time to be considered for publication. –GDM

The Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) recently stationed approximately 570 personnel at a recently constructed garrison located on Ishigaki Island in the southwestern Ryukyu (Nansei) Islands Chain. Ishigaki Island is located about 151 miles (244 km) west of Taiwan and about 105 miles (68 km) northwest of the Senkaku Islands. The troops are assigned to units that operate the Type 03 Medium-Range Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) and the Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile (SSM) systems.

Ishigaki Island and Its Importance

Ishigaki Island is a part of the Ryukyu Islands consisting of 55 islands and islets that span at least 700 miles southwest of the island of Kyushu. The island is also the main island of the Yaeyama Islands Group, a sub-chain of the Ryukyus, and is considered the region’s transportation hub. The island is home to Painushima Ishigaki Airport (New Ishigaki Airport), the region’s only regional airport, and also has substantial ferry and port facilities. The island is relatively close to Taiwan (approximately 151 miles/244 km) and commercial aircraft from Taiwan can reach the island in approximately four hours. The island is also close to the Senkaku Islands/Diaoyudao Islands, whose ownership is disputed between China and Japan, with Japan administering the islands while China disputes Japan’s claims. However, the dispute reignited in 2010 when the Japanese Coast Guard (JCG) arrested a captain of a Chinese fishing vessel after it rammed two JCG vessels as it attempted to leave the area.

Another event that also reignited the dispute was when the Japanese government brought the islands in August 2012 to prevent the then-Tokyo governor from purchasing them. China responded to these by various means, such as diplomatic protests, deploying the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to the vicinity of the islands, and allowing citizens to violently protest in cities throughout China. The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) vessels also sailed into the Japanese territorial waters around the islands to protest Japanese claims. Chinese vessels continue to enter the Senkakus after the tensions decreased in 2013 and 2014, with the most recent incident occurring on April 2, 2023. Four CCG vessels circled the islands for approximately 80 hours before leaving, making the longest amount of time Chinese vessels stayed in the water surrounding the disputed islands.

The Type 03 Medium-Range Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) System

The Type 03 Medium-Range SAM system – also called the Chū-SAM system – is an indigenously developed SAM system developed and manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The JGSDF adopted the Type 03 SAM system in 2005 and adopted an improved version – called the Chu-SAM Kai in 2017. The Chu-SAM Kai upgrades on the original Chu-SAM missile by improving the warhead’s sensors. The upgrades also incorporated new network features for increased range and improved targeting of more modern complex cruise and other missile threats. The SAM system is reported to have the ability to engage and target aircraft, helicopters, and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs). Additionally, the SAM system can also reportedly engage cruise missiles traveling at low altitudes. The system radar is an active phased array radar and can reportedly track and engage multiple targets at one time.