Pentagon may upgrade rank of US Forces Japan chief

US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has suggested that the rank of the commander of the US forces deployed in Japan may be upgraded. This comes at a time when Japan is setting up a joint operations command to coordinate its Self-Defense Forces.

Austin was speaking to reporters in Singapore on Monday.

A reporter referred to an agreement at a bilateral summit in April to upgrade the command and control structure of the US and Japanese forces, and asked what the ideal structure would be.

Austin replied that they are "evaluating" whether to deploy a four-star commander in Japan, but had no announcements to make about the matter.

US Forces Japan is currently led by a commander with the rank of lieutenant general. A leader with the upgraded rank of general is authorized to have operational command.

The move comes at a time when Japan is working to set up a permanent joint operations command of its Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defense Forces by the end of March next year.

The Pentagon has been studying plans about where to deploy the same level of commander as Japan's and other issues.

The plans are apparently part of efforts to strengthen coordination of command and control between the US Forces Japan and the JSDF.

Meanwhile, when asked whether the US may deploy mid-range missiles in Japan in the future, Austin said the military routinely deploys different types of capability as part of exercises.

The defense secretary added that the US is looking to strengthen the exercises through working with Japan.