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PM Abe ready to expand role of Japan's defence forces

Currently their role is largely focused on peacekeeping operations, but that may soon change as Japan considers the future deployment of troops overseas for defence operations.

YOKOSUKA: With the confirmation of a stronger US-Japan security alliance and the backing of President Barack Obama, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is ready to step up the role of the country's self defence forces.

Currently their role is largely focused on peacekeeping operations, but that may soon change as Japan considers the future deployment of troops overseas for defence operations.

It is a fresh challenge -- but within Japan, defence personnel still remain very popular with the public.

At a community event in Yokosuka, residents queued for two kilometres to mingle with defence personnel.

Curry dishes were cooked and served to the public by members of the Maritime Self-Defence Force onboard various vessels, including destroyers and a submarine.

While on missions out at sea, defence forces personnel have curry dishes for lunch every Friday as an indicator of what day of the week it is.

There is also a competition for the public to vote for the best dish prepared by defence forces personnel.

For Japan it was controversial just having self-defence forces decades ago. That has changed since.

According to the latest poll by the Cabinet Office, 91 per cent of the public now have a good impression of the self-defence forces.

"They always bear in mind and take action to protect us, as in earthquakes. That's shown in their response during disasters," said a 40-year-old Japanese man.

A young boy said: ""I want to be a member of the Maritime Self-Defence Force... the reason is I want to defend Japan from the sea."

The government is taking steps to revise its military strategy.

After a decade of cutting down the defence budget, it is now starting to increase defence spending.

The export of weapons has also been relaxed for the first time since 1967.

Prime Minister Abe wants to allow the right to exercise collective self defence.

Toshio Nagahisa, a senior reseach fellow at the PHP Institute, said: "I think it's necessary and many politicians agree with that, and it's also possible to change the interpretation of the Constitution. Why we need it, the reason is... we can defend ourselves in our territory."

The Maritime Self-Defence Force is aware that as its role changes, it will need to sustain support from the public.

Lieutenant Commander Satoshi Sekikawa, publicist chief of Maritime Self-Defence Force, Yokosuka, said: "If something happens, there's a possibility of a rise of distrust towards the Self-Defence Force. So we have to make sure we are liked. We are coming to the period that we don't lose the people's understanding towards the self-defence force."

Despite the defence forces stepping up their capabilities, they are still seeing a fall in the number of young recruits. 

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