On April 17th, the Atlantic Council released a report titled “Emerging technologies and the future of US-Japan defense collaboration” specifically looking into 4 technologies that the US and Japan can focus on and counter China.
As it is no secret, the NATO-funded Atlantic Council functions as a sort of PR office for the Alliance.
As per the description of the report itself, authored by Tate Nurkin and Ryo Hinata-Yamaguchi “it explores the drivers, tensions, and constraints shaping US-Japan collaboration on emerging defense technologies while providing concrete recommendations for the US-Japan alliance to accelerate and intensify long-standing military and defense-focused coordination and collaboration.”
The most important component of cooperation on defense capabilities is direct coordination and collaboration on emerging technologies and capabilities,” the authors write.
They single out three areas of focus including unmanned systems, hypersonic/hyper-velocity missiles, and the defense applications of AI as three key areas where the U.S. and Japan need to start working together on.
“These three areas are at the center of the intensifying U.S.-China military-technological competition. They are key to challenging or upholding military balances and stabilizing imbalances in and across key domain-area competitions — strike versus air and missile defense or undersea — on which regional and, over time, global security is at least partly based,” the report says.
This is prompted by the key priorities of China’s military modernization, as per one of the authors, Tate Nurkin.
Four project areas that both the US strategy and Japan’s regional interests could benefit from are at the focus of the report, these are:
- Emerging Unmanned Technologies and Concepts: “Loyal Wingman” and Swarms: The pace of innovation in, and integration of autonomy into, unmanned systems is accelerating, and forcing militaries around the world to develop new operational concepts to effectively exploit autonomous systems. In the short term, the central focus is on novel ways to team manned and unmanned systems, including through concepts that use manned platforms such as fighter jets, surface ships, or tanks as command-and-control platforms managing a small group of unmanned air, ground, surface, or, potentially, underwater systems.
- Unmanned Underwater Vehicles and Anti-Submarine Warfare Capabilities: Balances in the undersea domain are, much like the strike versus air- and missile-defense competition, critical to shaping the future stability of the Indo-Pacific. This domain has been growing considerably more crowded, competitive, and contested over the past decade, as states across East Asia seek to either develop or procure advanced submarines as part of a “keeping up with the Joneses” dynamic.
- AI-Enabled Synthetic Training Environments: Incorporation of virtual and augmented reality, cloud computing, big-data analytics, and machine learning are producing opportunities in the simulation and training markets. New synthetic training environments are allowing military personnel to gain repetitions in low-cost, low-risk environments before they are advanced to more expensive live training settings, speeding up the overall training process. The US Air Force’s “Pilot Training Next program’s use of an AI trainer to evaluate not only student [performance] but also how each individual student learned led to thirteen of the twenty pilots that took part in the trial graduating in half the time it normally takes to complete USAF’s Air Force Specialized Undergraduate Pilot Training course.”
- “Counter” technologies: Counter-UAV capabilities also constitute effect areas for US-Japan collaboration, and could also offer opportunities for subsequent exports.
Emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence, hypersonic weapons, and unmanned vehicles are reshaping the future of military operations and the strategic landscape of the Indo-Pacific. To ensure that these technologies enhance, rather than degrade, security in the region, the United States and Japan must accelerate and intensify their long-standing defense-focused coordination and collaboration, especially in capability and technology areas that are buttressing prevailing future operational concepts: unmanned systems, hypersonic missiles, and military applications of AI.
But for any of the cooperation to be effective, as per the report, Japan and the United States must be creative and bold in establishing a variety of mechanisms for engagement.
“Most importantly, these varied models for engagement must focus on delivering new and enhanced capability for Japan, the United States, and the alliance as they pivot to meet the difficult-to-detect, fast-moving, and formidable threats of the era of great-power competition.”
Some of the issues and potential collaborations have come into discussion while the US is offering to assist in Japan’s development of a fighter jet. Japan recently rejected an offer by Lockheed Martin of a hybrid F-22/F-35 design, stating that “developing derivatives of existing fighters cannot be a candidate from the perspective of a Japan-led development.”
Getting the F-3 deal right will have long term implications for how the two nations develop capabilities together, the authors warn, quoting defense analyst Gregg Rubinstein in saying “Successfully defining a path to U.S.-Japanese collaboration on this program could make the F-3 an alliance-building centerpiece of cooperative defense acquisition” while failure to do so could “undermine prospects for future collaboration in defense capabilities development.”
And anything that is decided as a collaboration point between Tokyo and Washington, needs to be also considered through the point of view of a potential reaction by Beijing, but also from Seoul, which, as usual, has relations prone to escalation with Japan.
“Even marginal differences in perception produce limits to the parameters of U.S.-Japan joint development of, and coordination on, military capabilities. Especially provocative programs like joint hypersonic-missile development will be viewed as escalatory, and will likely generate a response from China,Russia, and/or North Korea that could complicate other trade or geopolitical interests that go beyond Northeast Asia,” the authors warn, noting that China could attempt to exert more pressure on the ASEAN nations as a counterweight.
South Korea would likely “see substantial U.S.-Japan collaboration not through an adversarial lens, but certainly through the lens of strained relations stemming from both historical and contextual issues, further complicating U.S.-Japan-Republic of Korea trilateral cooperation.”
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