Japan seeks electromagnetic upgrade to defend islands

Japan seeks electromagnetic upgrade to defend islands

Felix Kim

Developing defense capabilities in the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum is a top priority of Japan’s military in 2020.

The country’s Ministry of Defense identified systems and technologies it seeks, including radar-jamming devices, aircraft equipped with electronic protection and the establishment of a specialized electronic warfare (EW) unit within the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). The proposed enhancements come as Russia and the People’s Republic of China (PRC) boost their own EM/EW defense capabilities, the ministry noted.

The capabilities described in the September 2020 edition of the ministry’s journal, Japan Defense Focus, include: an EW aircraft, pictured, capable of jamming an adversary’s communications; a radar-neutralizing, ground-based, anti-aircraft EW device; procurement of three F-35A and six F-35B fighter aircraft, each equipped with “superior electronic protection capabilities;” and EW upgrades to existing F-15 aircraft.

An EW unit will be established in early 2021 at Camp Kengun in Kumamoto Prefecture in southwestern Japan, reported Japan’s Kyodo News agency. In an enemy attack, such as one on a remote island, the unit would jam enemy radar and missile guidance and protect Japan’s front-line communications, Kyodo added.

Russia occupies four islands claimed by Japan northeast of Hokkaido, Japan’s northernmost prefecture. The PRC, meanwhile, claims sovereignty over a group of islands in the East China Sea controlled by Japan, which refers to them as the Senkakus.

The growing EW capabilities of Russia and the PRC have drawn the attention of Japan’s defense officials. A 2020 defense white paper by Japan describes “force-on-force exercises” conducted by the PRC’s armed forces in “complicated electromagnetic environments” and the use of EW systems by Russian forces in Syria and Ukraine.

“In order to adapt to increasingly rapid changes in the security environment, Japan will enhance priority capability areas as early as possible,” the white paper states.

The EW unit at Camp Kengun will be staffed by about 80 personnel, Japan defense analyst Daisuke Akimoto wrote in a September 14, 2020, essay for the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Stockholm.

“The unit will collaborate with the amphibious rapid deployment brigade at Camp Ainoura in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, which has a mission for recapturing remote islands in an event of military emergency,” Akimoto wrote.

Deployment has begun for the vehicle-mounted network electronic warfare system (NEWS), he added, with one unit sent in March 2020 to the JSDF Signal School in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture. NEWS costs about U.S. $97 million and can collect, analyze and jam adversary signal intelligence.

“Although EW capability is regarded as a nonlethal defense system in Japan,” Akimoto said, “it has an unmeasurable potential to become a game changer technology for its multi-domain defense force.”

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.