The Special Assault Team (特殊急襲部隊, Tokushu Kyūshū Butai ) is the official civilian Counter-Terrorist unit under the Japanese National Police Agency. Like the GSG 9 and the SAS, most information on the unit has been confidential, its existence officially revealed.
The roots of the Special Assault Team are traced back on September 28, 1977 when Tōkyō and Ōsaka began to train Special Armed Police (SAP) units as an armed response to criminal incidents where firearms are known to be involved, especially after the Dhaka Incident. After its establishment, the unit had its first known incident on January 26, 1979 when the SAP’s Tokyo branch were deployed during the Mitsubishi Bank Hostage Incident in Osaka (Current Mitsubishi Tokyo UFJ Bank). It was the first shooting incident in Japan involving armed police officers. In 1992, the SAP was again dispatched to Machida city to resolve an armed criminal incident.
On June 21, 1995, All Nippon Airways Flight 857 was hijacked at the Hakodate Airport by a lone hijacker. This incident marking the first time that the Japanese Air Self-Defense Forces cooperated with the SAP by providing Kawasaki C-1 aircraft as means of transportation from Haneda Airport. The plane was stormed by SAP officers and the hijacker was arrested and subdued, with assistance from the Hokkaido Police’s Riot Squad. The incident had made National Police Agency (NPA) officials work for the establishment of the Special Assault Team. On the same year, SAP units were dispatched to Yamanashi Prefecture.
The attempted hijacking marked the need for a specialized counter-terrorist team that would operate under the auspices of the National Police Agency.
On April 1, 1996, the Special Assault Team (SAT) was established after a year’s training with the GSG 9, GIGN and the British SAS.
During the Japanese embassy hostage crisis in Peru, the SAT had simulated raids on retaking buildings similar to the Japanese Embassy as a possible counter-measure to a similar incident in Japanese soil.
In June 1997, the SAT was involved in its first anti-hijacking case when it stormed a bus and captured a hijacker alive.
On June 11, 1999, a lone man armed with a hunting rifle stormed the Keiyo Bank in Narashino, Chiba Prefecture. The SAT’s Chiba unit was deployed to resolve the incident, but the hostage was released and the man was arrested by police through negotiations. The incident then forced Chiba Police to create the Attack Rescue Team, which would take responsibility for the SAT in low level criminal incidents. The unit has similar responsibilities to the Tokyo Metropolitan Police’s SIT (Special Investigation Team) and the Osaka Police’s MAAT (Martial Arts Attack Team).
SAT operators successfully rappel from chopper during training exercise.
The SAT became known in Japanese media again when its Fukuoka and Osaka branches took part in recapturing a hijacked bus in Fukuoka in the Neomugicha incident in 2000, capturing the lone hijacker alive. The hijacking event showcased the SAT’s dedication to protect the public with their counter-terrorist skills in subduing felons such as criminals and terrorists with as little force as possible. Their biggest operation was in 2002 during the 2002 FIFA World Cup, when SAT units were seen providing heavy security for soccer teams during matches on Japanese soil.
Recent moves by NPA officials lead to an increase in manpower. In 2005, NPA officials increased the SAT’s manpower from 200 to 250 operators. Another increase followed in 2006 when they increased the unit’s manpower from 250 to 300 operators. The unit has also been featured recently in various Japanese TV documentaries.
SAT operators work to retake a mock hijacked bus.
The Tōkyō branch, formerly called “Special Operations Company” (特科中隊), is under 6th Mobile Unit, Security Department of Tōkyō Metropolitan Police Department (警視庁警備部第六機動隊). In Ōsaka Prefecture, it was created under the 2nd Mobile Unit (第二機動隊) and was unofficially called the “Zero Company” (零中隊). Today, the official name of SAT in Japanese is simply “特殊部隊,” or “Special Forces.”
Currently other branches exist in the prefectural Police departments of Hokkaidō, Chiba, Kanagawa, Aichi, Fukuoka and Okinawa. Nationwide SAT maintains about 300 personnel.
SAT operators conduct routine training in their own kill-house at certain prefectures in the Kantō region (Locations are believed to be classified). The SAT has also conduct joint training with the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in order to maintain their state of readiness.
Each SAT division consists of a subduing group, the sniping group, the technical support group and the command section.
The subduing group leads the operation and the sniping group takes charge of sniping and reconnaissance. The technical support group is in charge of electronic equipment such as microphones and cameras. The command section is responsible for tactical planning.
Upon recruitment to the SAT, the officer’s name is deleted from the roster of active police officers; this is done similarly to the British SAS and GSG 9 so as to protect them from being attacked by criminals, extremist and terrorist groups, as well as being prosecuted.
SAT operators in the group’s sniper division are trained to kill with precise headshots and reload in split seconds.
SAT operators are known to cooperate with the Special Security Team (SST), mostly in training exercises.
The following ranks are observed in the SAT:
Commander = Inspector
Team Captain = Assistant Inspector
Squad Leader = Sergeant
Areas of Responsibility (AOR)
The SAT Tokyo unit is responsible for the Haneda Airport and other facilities such as the Imperial Palace, the Prime Minister’s residence or Kantei and the National Diet Building. The unit is also in charge of resolving situations involving any hostile act against foreign embassies.
The SAT Osaka unit takes charge of the Kansai Airport and the Osaka Airport.
Included in the SAT Hokkaido unit’s AOR is the New Chitose Airport and the Hakodate Airport
The Narita International Airport is the responsibility of the SAT Chiba unit.
Kanagawa’s SAT unit takes charge of securing the US Navy’s 7th Fleet headquarters.
Aichi’s SAT unit is responsible for the Chubu Centrair International Airport.
Security for the Fukuoka Airport and the various foreign consulates are left to the Fukuouka SAT unit.
Various US Military installations, such as the Naha Military Port, and the Naha Airport are left to the responsibility of the Okinawa SAT unit. This was the latest SAT unit to be established on September 10, 2005.