Japan’s Defense Ministry has recently determined that women will be allowed to serve as pilots flying attack helicopters and special maritime patrol planes, Japan Times reported Wednesday. The decision comes as the Japanese government has pushed to widen the role of women in the Japan Self-Defense Forces.
As many believe the security situation in the region is worsening, Japan has sought to bolster its military in recent years. China is reportedly expanding its military and staking claims to the South China Sea, and North Korea has flaunted its nuclear missile program in recent months. Part of the incentive of opening roles to women may be to help expand the defense force while the country’s population is shrinking.
“Hiring women makes a lot of sense,” Robert Dujarric, director of the Institute of Contemporary Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo, told Quartz late last year. “Every modern military is expanding opportunities for women. And since Japan is falling into demographic oblivion, finding young men is going to be harder.”
The Japan Self-Defense Forces have some 230,000 personnel, yet only 5.7 percent are women. Late last year, positions such as fighter jet and spy plane pilots were opened to women. A number of other positions — including some in special patrol units and minesweeper operations — have also recently been made available to women. Jobs in the infantry and tank units remain closed. Female applicants have already been signing up for some of the new positions, the Defense Ministry announced Tuesday.
Japan has not had a standing military since the end of World War II, when a new constitution, written by the victorious Americans, outlawed the creation of regular armed forces. After the Korean War in 1950, however, the U.S. encouraged the island nation to build up its forces, fearing the prospect of Communist expansion.
While the Japan Self-Defense Forces have not regularly been engaged in combat, they did briefly deploy to southern Iraq as part of a U.S.-led coalition. They also led rescue and relief operations in Japan after the Kobe-Awaji earthquake in 1995 and the Fukushima nuclear disaster in 2011. Japan today sees the branch as a disaster relief force, the BBC reported.