In December 2018, Japan adopted its new National Defense Program Guidelines.
Since 2012, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been working towards a reformation of Japan’s military capabilities. The PM has also hinted at plans to revise Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution, which famously renounces the country’s ability to wage war.
The original reasons for the new defense plan are North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests and Chinese assertiveness in the South China Sea.
The revision was undertaken under a “multidimensional joint defense force” concept, which stresses the need to invest in the newest domains of warfare — space and cyberspace. These areas sit outside the traditional domains of air, sea and ground defenses. Specifically, the blueprint adopts the notion of “active defense,” urging Japan to beef up its capabilities to disrupt enemy telecommunications infrastructure.
Under the multi-year program through March 2024, Japan will upgrade its two existing Izumo-class helicopter carriers so that they can F-35 launch fighters. Japan will purchase 105 F-35 jets, including conventional takeoff and landing variants.
To respond to the ‘threat’ of longer-range Chinese anti-ship missiles, Japan will deploy Standoff Missiles that are capable of striking sea-based targets from a distance of 900 km. The Defense Ministry will also work on new equipment, such as hypersonic guided missiles.
More recently, on January 29th, US State Department Approved a $2.15 Billion Aegis Ashore Sale to Japan.
“This proposed sale will provide the government of Japan with an enhanced capability against increasingly sophisticated ballistic missile threats and create an expanded, layered defense of its homeland,” the January 29 statement reads. “Japan, which already has the AEGIS in its inventory, will have no difficulty absorbing this system into its armed forces.”
The Aegis Ashore sites will be capable of firing the SM-3 Block IIA/Block IB interceptors as well as the supersonic SM-6 missile interceptor. SM-6 interceptors are not expected to be procured by Japan until the end of the 2020s, according to the latest Japanese defense budget documents. The Japanese Ministry of Defense plans (MoD) to arm each Aegis Ashore battery with around 24 SM-3 Block IIAs or Block IBs.
Lockheed Martin’s Solid State Radar (SSR) was selected for the two Aegis Ashore sites.
The Japanese MoD plans to deploy the two Aegis Ashore batteries by 2025 to supplement its PAC-3 Patriot batteries capable of engaging short- and medium-range ballistic missiles in their terminal phase.
In addition, Japan will purchase:
- 2 Multi-Mission Signal Processors (MMSP)
- 2 Command and Control Processor (C2P) Refreshes
- radio navigation equipment
- naval ordnance
- 2 Identification Friend or Foe (IFF) Systems
- Global Command and Control System-Maritime (GCCS-M) hardware
- 2 Inertial Navigation Systems (INS)
- US government and contractor representatives’ technical
- engineering and logistics support services
- installation support material, training, construction services for six vertical launch system launcher module enclosures
- communications equipment and associated spares
- classified and unclassified publications and software
- other related elements of logistical and program support
In November 2018, The U.S. Department of State approved the sale of eight SM-3 Block IB missiles and 13 SM-3 Block IIA missiles for an estimated cost of $561 million. In January 2018, the potential sale of four SM-3 Block IIA missiles to Japan for an estimated cost of $133.3 million.
Internally, Japan is planning to develop medium and long-range cruise missiles. They would be used to strengthen its defense capabilities in remote southwestern islands and nearby areas of the Pacific.
Japan’s defense budget for 2019 is the record-high for the country $47 billion. This marked the 5th record year of defense spending in a row for the country.
Referring to the recent deployment of long-range sea-to-air armaments on warships by “some countries,” Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya told a press conference, “We’ll start research and development soon and introduce (the missiles) to the Air Self-Defense Force.”
Iwaya stressed the need to lengthen the missile shooting range so that fighter jets could launch them from beyond the range of enemy’s weapons.
Japan’s Ground-Self defense Force modernization programme is also on-going. The amphibious vehicles programme has been launched in part to enable the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB) to enhance Japan’s ability to defend and recapture the Nansei Islands in southwest. The ARDB are also tasked with performing humanitarian assistance and disaster relief.
In 2019, Japan will also hold Clarion’s Defence & Security and Crisis Intelligence Japan – the country’s first ever fully integrated defense event.
“DSEI Japan will bring the global defence and security sector together with the entire Japanese defence community to innovate, partner and share knowledge, bringing together companies from across the industry on an unrivalled scale. DSEI Japan will be the most important defence event ever to take place in Japan.”
In terms of weapons tests and drills, Japan has planned joint tests with the US of anti-ICBM missiles.
In March 2019, The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), British Royal Navy and U.S. Navy conducted trilateral anti-submarine warfare exercises. The exercise involved a U.S. Navy P-8A maritime patrol aircraft from the “War Eagles” of Patrol Squadron (VP) 16, the Royal Navy Type 23 (Duke-class) ASW frigate, HMS Montrose, the JMSDF Murasame-class destroyer JS Murasame, a P-1 JMDPF maritime patrol aircraft, and a JMSDF submarine.
“The Royal Navy, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, and United States Navy all support a free and open Indo-Pacific,” said Captain Brian Erickson, the commander of Task Force Seven Two (CFT 72). “Exercises like this demonstrate our nation’s resolve in the region, while improving interoperability, maintaining readiness, and learning best practices from one another.”
Earlier, in February 2019, Japan, in addition to the US, Thailand, Singapore, China, India, Indonesia, Malaysia and South Korea took part in the Cobra Gold military maneuvers.
The exercises were made up of three major components: military field training, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief training. The goals include “enhancing maritime security, preventing and mitigating emerging disease threats, and responding to large-scale natural disasters,” a US statement said.
Despite increased investments and aims at becoming more offensive, Japan’s military is struggling with getting recruits.
“Japan’s population as a whole is dropping, but the drop is especially notable among those aged 18 to 32, Japan’s recruitment eligible. That population has fallen from 9 million in 1994 to 5.6 million in 2018, Japan’s defense ministry said. Its Self Defense Forces have missed annual enlisted recruiting goals for a number of years. The average age of the Self Defense Forces is over 35 now,” Military Times reported.
Maj. Gen. Yoshiki Adachi, Defense and Military Attaché at the Embassy of Japan said if he got a chance to convince Japan’s youth to serve, “I’d focus on the importance of serving the country,” he said. “Our security environment right now is very severe …. maybe you could say this environment is worse than that of the Cold War era.”
“But the problem is … if I talk about these kinds of issues at a high school, most of the students would not really be interested in them,” Adachi said.