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    INTRODUCTION As a result of a planned phased withdrawal of all U.S. ground combat forces?

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    INTRODUCTION As a result of a planned phased withdrawal of all U.S. ground combat forces from the Korean Peninsula, South Korea has been unofficially suggesting that Japan expands its military role in north-east Asia.

    SYNOPSIS: Japan, although eager to see the current military equilibrium maintained in Korea, has long resisted any attempts to enlarge its Self Defence Force (SDF). The SDF, as guaranteed by the nation's constitution, was created only to safeguard the country's peace and independence.

    In a recent statement, Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda indicated that Japan will not enlarge its own armed forces to fill the gap created by the withdrawal of U.S. troops from South Korea.

    The actual strength of the SDF presently stands at nearly a quarter of a million personnel. The Ground Self Defence Force, the nation's army, makes up more than half the number, while a further 40,000 form the Maritime Self Defence Force, the navy. The Air Self Defence has 43,000 troops.

    The combined forces are relatively small, however, receiving less than one per cent of the nation's annual income. But they enjoy considerable popularity. In a recent survey conducted by the government, 80 per cent of the Japanese people were in favour of maintaining the SDF.

    But the Self Defence force itself suffers from low morale. The commanding Defence Agency, relying on volunteers, in unable to fill more than 86 per cent of its target strength. On an average some 1,700 personnel leave each month. The SDF'S starting salary is approximately 195 (U.S.) dollars a month, while white collar workers earn between 270 and 300 dollars.

    There are 13 divisions within the ground Self Defence Force. At Asahikawa in Hokkaido, the Second Division defend the front line against any attack from the north. The Air Defence force operates a 24-hour security network around japan's islands.

    In spite of the tight security, last September a Soviet MIG-25 jet, piloted by a defector, managed to slip through the elaborate radar net set up on Hokkaido Island, raising some doubts about their effectiveness.

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    Reuters - Including Visnews
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