A ceremony marking the launch of the Japanese ground force's first surface-to-ship missile unit on the main island of Okinawa took place Saturday, as Japan beefs up its defenses amid China's maritime assertiveness.

Speaking at the Ground Self-Defense Force's Katsuren camp, senior vice defense minister Makoto Oniki underscored the "extremely important" location of the Okinawa main island for national security, which sits roughly halfway in a chain of Japanese islands extending 1,200 kilometers from the southernmost main island of Kyushu toward Taiwan.

The ceremony followed the establishment of the surface-to-ship missile regiment on March 21. The regiment, equipped with Type 12 surface-to-ship guided missiles, will keep watch on Chinese military ships that often sail between the Okinawa main island and Miyako Island.

The Japan Ground Self-Defense Force holds a ceremony marking the launch of a new ground-to-ship missile unit in the GSDF's Camp Katsuren in Uruma, Okinawa Prefecture, on March 30, 2024. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

Officers serving in the headquarters of the new regiment as well as troops under their command will total around 200, according to the Defense Ministry.

Surface-to-ship missile units are also present on Miyako and Ishigaki islands in Okinawa Prefecture and Amami-Oshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture.

Local residents, meanwhile, are concerned that military tensions may heighten as units in Okinawa Prefecture may be equipped with an upgraded version of the Type 12 missile with an extended firing range, which the central government plans to deploy from the fiscal year starting in April 2025.

The southern island prefecture also hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.

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