The Japanese Special Forces Group (SFGp), or the 特殊作戦群 (Tokushusakusengun), originally known as the Special Operations Group (SOG) prior to a name change on March 26, 2008, was established on March 27, 2004 under the Japanese Ground Self-Defense Forces. The SFGp is mandated to conduct counter-terrorism, hostage rescue and direct action operations not only overseas, but also in Japan. The SFGp has a domestic role to combat potential attacks or incursions by hostile special forces personnel or by hypothetical guerrillas trained by hostile countries [source].
While most of the SFGp’s inner workings is considered classified, it has an estimated manpower of 300 operators currently serving in the unit [source]. Active operators are ordered to conceal their faces. Exemptions are made for commissioned officers [source].
In 1998, the Japanese Defense Agency proposed the creation of a unit in the JGSDF tasked to handle counter-terrorism as one of its responsibilities [source]. Selected personnel from the 1st Airborne Brigade were sent to the US to be trained by operators from Delta Force. Later on, the first members were also trained by the Green Berets. These men were responsible for forming the nucleus of the Special Operations Group.
When the first soldiers were recruited, most had to be trained overseas as the JGSDF did not have enough experienced personnel who were familiar with special operations concepts used by similar foreign special forces units [source]. According to Takashi Araya, who was the first commander of the SFGp, he had to train abroad for in 2002 with the Green Berets to be familiar with special operations concepts himself [source]. He said JGSDF soldiers who are Ranger-trained and those recruited to the SFGp were not different in terms of their training.
Former 1st Japanese Special Forces Group (A) officer Lino Miani mentioned that the unit doesn’t want its lineage painted similarly to the Kempeitai and other Imperial Japanese military units from World War II [source].
The unit has limited missions overseas due to the limitations of Article 9. The GCC is not known to be forthcoming with any information that can jeopardize the Special Forces Group’s operations. Most of the known missions are based from public sources.
In 2005, the SFGp discreetly made arrangement for at least four of its operators to serve in close protection work for JGSDF officers leading the Japanese Iraq Reconstruction and Support Group (JIRSG) in Samawa, Iraq [source]. There were concerns that Iraqi guerillas that have a presence in the province could target JGSDF troops conducting humanitarian work. Among those targets include Japanese diplomats and officials coming from Tokyo to make visits.
In 2016, the SFGp participated in their first domestic operation when they were on standby during the 42nd G7 Summit at Shima, Mie Prefecture alongside the Special Assault Team, Anti-Firearms Squad and the Special Boarding Unit. Their presence was a precautionary measure in case anti-terrorist elements within Japanese law enforcement need assistance in potential terrorist attacks [source].
The Japanese Special Forces Group consist of a headquarters, three companies and a training unit [source].
The SFGp has a variety of weapons used in their operations.
- Assault rifles
- Colt M4A1; the rifle is reported to be in service. The JGSDF is denying that they are used [source]. This denial likely came from the arrest of Captain Tomoaki Iishiba for violating export laws by sending various scopes and firearms accessories to acquaintances in the Japanese Self-Defense Forces and law enforcement agencies [source]. It was reported on January 2008 that M4A1s were shipped to Japan. They were based on a contract from TACOM [source].
- Battle rifles
- Heckler & Koch HK417 [source]
- Submachine Guns
- Remington Model 870 (Supposedly with Wilson Combat parts) [source]
- Remington M24 SWS [source]
- Heckler & Koch USP Tactical [source] [source]
A potential SFGp recruit would be from JGSDF soldiers who have passed qualifications from the stringent Ranger courses or are active paratroopers from the 1st Airborne Brigade [source]. The unit has a 3% passing rate due to demanding physical fitness qualifications [source].
A recruit is trained to be fluent in English aside from Japanese. However, the SFGp allows an operator to study other languages such as Arabic, Chinese and Russian [source].
Cooperation with foreign special forces
After the Japanese Special Forces Group was raised in 2004, it has conducted training exercises with the 1st Special Forces Group, US Army Special Forces under Silent Eagle [source]. Some of the exercises have been conducted throughout Guam.
The SFGp has working relationships with Delta Force [source]. Most of its first members have been trained under them.
There are reports of SFGp operators being spotted in international military exercises, acting as observers. They were reported to be seen in Africa for Operation Flintlock [source] and in the United States for the Special Operations Forces Industry Conference [source].
Japan will continue to face the threat of terrorism overseas. This includes grey zone activities conducted by China, North Korea and Russia. The SFGp will continue to play a (mostly) defensive role in protecting Japanese soil and nationals from terrorist threats. In addition, this extends to counter-terrorism.
The unit will continue to have the capability of conducting hostage rescue and other types of special operations missions under the JGSDF. But the opposition of sending them to harm’s way will have to be resolved. Otherwise, the unit cannot be utilized to its fullest extent.