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Japan’s Defense Technology Strategy

Nation Has Plan to Acquire, Incorporate Innovative Technologies

Dr. Shigenori Mishima

Dr. Shigenori Mishima, vice commissioner and chief technology officer of Japan’s Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA), delivered this keynote address at the Pacific Operational Science & Technology conference in Honolulu, Hawaii, in March 2023. Mishima discussed ATLA’s role and security and defense strategies announced by Japan in December 2022. His comments have been edited to fit FORUM’s format.

ATLA is an external organization of the Japan Ministry of Defense (JMOD). It was established in 2015 and has about 1,800 employees. The missions of ATLA are broadly divided into four categories. First, to ensure technological superiority and to respond smoothly and quickly to operational needs. Second, to acquire defense equipment efficiently. This is the project management function from the cradle to the grave, from concept studies, research and development [R&D], procurement and operational sustainment, to disposal. Third, to strengthen defense equipment and technology cooperation. This includes cooperation with domestic industry, government and academia, and with international partners. And fourth, to maintain and strengthen defense production and technology bases. 

Defense production and technology bases are integral parts of defense capabilities, and their reinforcement is essential.

ATLA has five systems development divisions, plus the Naval Ship Design Division. In addition, it has four research centers for ground, air, naval and next-generation systems, and three test centers.

The security environment surrounding Japan is growing increasingly severe and at an unprecedented pace, with neighboring countries strengthening their military capabilities. Unilateral changes to the status quo by force represent significant challenges to the free and open international order. Russia’s aggression against Ukraine has revealed this in a most blatant way. The international community is facing its greatest post-war [World War II] trial yet and has entered a new era of crisis. Meanwhile, rapid advances in science and technology are fundamentally changing the paradigm of security.

With these factors in mind, Japan published three strategy documents on December 16, 2022. These included the first revision of the National Security Strategy, initially released in 2013. Under this top-level document, the National Defense Strategy and Defense Buildup Program specify the objectives and means of defense. 

Japan is leading development of the Mitsubishi F-X stealth fighter with Italy and the United Kingdom as part of the Global Combat Air Program. The sixth-generation fighter jet, seen in this rendering, is slated to deploy in the mid-2030s. JAPAN MINISTRY OF DEFENSE

Strategic Fine Points

While the titles of these documents are new, they were formulated to replace the National Defense Program Guidelines and the Mid-Term Defense Program that was published in 2018. 

The National Security Strategy sets out Japan’s security strategies over a 10-year time frame. Its revision marks the most significant shift in Japanese security policy since World War II. Future measures include conducting diplomacy under the vision of a Free and Open Indo-Pacific, fundamentally reinforcing defense capabilities such as counterstrike capacities and promoting economic security policies. To implement the fundamental reinforcement of defense capabilities and complementary initiatives, Japan will take necessary measures to make the level of Japan’s defense budget reach 2% of the current gross domestic product by fiscal year 2027.

The National Defense Strategy sets out defense objectives over 10 years and presents methods and means to achieve them. Specifically, it establishes policies to reinforce defense capabilities, including seven key defense measures, to bolster the defense posture of the entire country in conjunction with its allies and partners.

The Defense Buildup Program indicates the defense level Japan should possess and is a medium- to long-term development plan for achieving that level, describing the structure of Japan’s Self-Defense Forces in five to 10 years. The program also indicates the quantity of mission-essential equipment needed and the total cost for the next five years — about 43 trillion yen, or more than U.S. $320 billion, which is 1.6 times larger than the allocation for the previous five years.

In the National Defense Strategy, there are three defense objectives and three approaches to achieve them. The objectives are:

  • Create a security environment that does not accept unilateral change of status quo by force.
  • Deter and respond to unilateral changes and attempts to change the status quo by force through cooperation with allies and like-minded countries and control the situation at an early stage.
  • If an invasion of Japan occurs, disrupt and defeat the assault while taking primary responsibility for dealing with the invasion and attaining support from allies.

The three approaches to achieve Japan’s defense objectives are:

  • Strengthening Japan’s architecture for national defense.
  • Reinforcing joint deterrence and response capability of the Japan-United States alliance.
  • Reinforcing collaboration with like-minded countries and others with whom Japan cooperates to uphold and reinforce a free and open international order. 

The National Defense Strategy identifies seven fields as functions and capabilities needed to respond to new ways of warfare. First, to disrupt invading forces over long distances to deter an invasion with standoff defense capabilities and integrated air and missile defenses. If deterrence fails, ensure asymmetric advantage and gain superiority across domains with unmanned defense capabilities, cross-domain operation capabilities, and command and control and intelligence-related functions. Continuing to operate in a swift and persistent manner to crush an opponent’s will to invade calls for mobile deployment capabilities and civil protection, and sustainability and resiliency.

Japan’s defense budget is expected to reach 6.8 trillion yen or about U.S. $50 billion in fiscal year 2023, an increase of 26.3% over fiscal year 2022.

Japan is developing railgun technology and in 2016 tested a prototype that launched a projectile at 7,193 kilometers per hour. JAPAN MINISTRY OF DEFENSE

Defense Priorities

The defense industry faces mounting challenges such as supply chain risks, low profit margins and cybersecurity leaks. Defense production and technology bases are, virtually, defense capabilities themselves. It is necessary to take in-depth initiatives to maintain and strengthen them. 

ATLA sets three directions for achieving its ideal vision. The first is to build a strong and sustainable defense industry by sustaining and strengthening industry’s competitiveness and technologies, vitalizing the defense industry and promoting new defense businesses, attracting profitable businesses and dealing with defense companies’ withdrawals. The second direction is to cope with various risks by ensuring a resilient supply chain, industrial and cyber security, and management of sensitive technologies. The third direction is to expand cooperation with other countries in the defense industry field. That includes promoting the transfer of equipment that contributes to the expansion of sales channels and streamlining foreign military sales.

It is important to strengthen defense technology bases. Investment in R&D is important both to develop capabilities and to ensure their deployment as soon as possible. Seven key defense capability areas were identified previously. To achieve them, ATLA will accelerate R&D, and maintain and improve existing technologies. ATLA also will aim to ensure medium- and long-term technological superiority by making best use of advanced commercial technologies, cooperating with relevant domestic ministries and agencies, and creating a new research institution within ATLA.

ATLA now is identifying focused technology areas. Throughout the process, it will strive to cooperate with allies and partners.

Japan plans to invest heavily in equipment and technology essential to warfare. R&D spending in the next five years is forecast to be about U.S. $26 billion, or about 4½ times the amount spent during the previous five years. Japan will spend intensively on technology in areas such as standoff defense, response to hypersonic glide vehicles, response to drones and swarm attacks, unmanned assets, next-generation fighter aircraft, and other capabilities.

Regarding standoff defense, JMOD aims to obtain capabilities to engage warships and landing forces invading Japan, including its remote islands, from locations outside threat zones. Hypersonic glide vehicles are hard to detect or intercept with conventional assets, so JMOD intends to acquire technology enabling us to respond to them. JMOD hopes quickly to find ways to counter aerial drones and swarm attacks, as well as acquire technologies such as unmanned underwater vehicles.

JMOD will intensively invest in the Global Combat Air Program, an initiative announced by Italy, Japan and the United Kingdom in early December 2022 to develop and deploy a next-generation fighter aircraft. To reinforce deterrence and response capabilities, JMOD will progress a program on a future electromagnetic railgun and other technologies.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida discusses the National Security Strategy at a news conference in December 2022. REUTERS

Rapid Acquisition

ATLA will use three methods to quickly develop and deploy these systems. First, rapid acquisition of capabilities through deployment of prototype units upon completion of R&D. An example is the Hyper Velocity Gliding Projectile project. Second, a prototype of operational scale is manufactured and deployed on a trial basis. A high-energy laser project is an example. Third, before an R&D project is completed, ATLA will evaluate and manage risks. Production begins in parallel with R&D. An example is the Type 12 surface-to-ship missile project.

Efforts on maintenance and improvement of conventional defense-specific technologies are also necessary. With limited human resources, ATLA aims to maintain and improve the technology base in the field that’s unique and essential to defense equipment by conducting research on existing technologies that form the foundation necessary for realizing advanced capabilities efficiently and effectively.

To strengthen incorporation of cutting-edge civil technologies, the budget for relevant initiatives will be significantly expanded in fiscal year 2023. That means more investment to discover and cultivate cutting-edge commercial technologies for defense purposes. Hypersonic weapons and high-precision gyroscope and laser technologies are examples of these funding areas.

Governmentwide Effort

ATLA funding of basic research, investments of other government agencies and promising cutting-edge commercial technologies will be adopted and modified as needed for defense purposes. This investment will be expanded and more focused in the next defense buildup program.

The new security and defense strategy documents emphasize the importance of utilizing all Japanese science and technology strength, and R&D efforts, to meet defense needs. This is a governmentwide effort. JMOD’s allocation for R&D is only 3% to 4% of the Japanese government’s science and technology budget.

ATLA makes every effort to incorporate cutting-edge technologies from external entities including startups and academia. The agency plans to establish a new research institute after fiscal year 2024. This organization will focus on R&D leading to the realization of innovative defense equipment and technological research. ATLA will identify technologies that can be directly linked to future warfare. ATLA will design the institution that is best suited to Japan, while referring to good practices as seen in, for example, DARPA [U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency] and DIU [U.S. Defense Innovation Unit].

JMOD has published three strategic documents: Defense Technology Strategy, Medium- to Long-Term Technology Outlook and R&D Vision. JMOD is reviewing these documents and plans to publish a new document that identifies key technology areas. Publishing JMOD’s interests in specific technology fields and in R&D will help increase predictability for industries and promote cooperation with international and domestic partners. Doing so will enable ATLA to identify areas in which to work with international partners and realize win-win cooperation.

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