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Interview with Joint Staff Office Chief of Staff Admiral Takashi Saito

Takashi Saito
Takashi Saito

One month into the job, what are your aspirations as Joint Staff Office chief of staff?
I want to maintain the system put in place by my predecessor, Hajime Massaki, the first Joint Staff Office (JSO) chief of staff, and steer the organization skillfully. When I was a student I was a sprinter, so I'm good at quick starts. That gave me a good start as JSO chief of staff. I intend to carry out my responsibilities in such a way that I don't run out of breath.
    The biggest change in the shift from chairman of the Joint Staff Council (JSC) to chief of staff of the JSO is the greater weight of responsibility placed on the latter. Before, when opinion in the JSC was split, it was acceptable for the chairman to report the differing opinions to the minister of state for defense. Now, though, the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) may well face contingencies that require quicker decisions. As I see it, the responsibility for presenting the SDF's decisions to the minister lies with the JSO chief of staff.

What kind of career have you had in the Maritime Self-Defense Force?
After joining the Maritime Self-Defense Force, I spent about 16 years on submarines. Submariners have to know every bit of their ship and memorize every detail of every system so that they can function freely even in complete darkness. Since I'm good at logical tasks, I was able to tackle this challenge with relish. To tell the truth, the reason I wanted to be assigned to submarines is that I wasn't very good at deciphering flash signals, a sine qua non of serving on surface ships.
    On the ground, I worked for a long time in the Defense Department of the Maritime Staff Office. I took part in the response to the North Korean Taepodong 1 Missile Launch in 1998 and the startup of the ballistic missile defense system project. A lot of things happened that I can't talk about, but my experience came in handy when North Korea launched missiles in July this year.

What are your thoughts on the future development of joint operations?
In terms of mental approach, I believe, the key to joint operations is consideration. By consideration I mean understanding of the other partners, thinking about things outside one's own bailiwick. At the same time, one mustn't lose one's own identity. It means bringing together the three branches (Ground, Maritime, and Air) of the SDF, each of which has different capabilities, to exercise greater strength. The JSO chief of staff must be the linchpin of the three services.