Japan recrafting defense goals to reflect evolving threats

Japan recrafting defense goals to reflect evolving threats

Felix Kim

Poised to contend with a rapidly evolving security environment, Japan is redefining its defense goals to reflect the need to defend against present-day threats, including those from cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum.

Its most recent National Defense Program Guidelines clarify both perceived threats to the country and how it is responding to them.

“Defense capability is the ultimate guarantor of Japan’s national security,” the guidelines state. It represents Japan’s will and ability to “deter threat from reaching Japan; and should threat reach Japan, eliminate the threat and, as a sovereign nation, by exerting efforts on its own accord and initiative, defend to the end Japanese nationals’ life, person and property as well as territorial land, waters and airspace.”

The country is committed to building a multi-domain defense force, which combines traditional capabilities with those in space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum. This force will be trained to perform capably and flexibly in peacetime and during armed contingencies.

The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) military capabilities — conventional, cyber, space and electromagnetic — are discussed in the guidelines as well as the PRC’s intensified military activities at sea and in the air.

“Around the Senkaku Islands, an inherent part of Japanese territory, Chinese government vessels continually violate Japanese territorial waters despite Japan’s strong protests while Chinese naval ships continuously operate in waters around the islands,” the guidelines state.

Russia, meanwhile, warrants “close attention” due to its force modernization and increased military activities in numerous quarters, including the waters around Japan’s Northern Territories.

Tokyo will spend a record U.S. $47 billion on defense in 2019, Japan’s Kyodo news agency reported, which includes the purchase of six F-35A stealth fighters and the Aegis Ashore missile defense system from the United States. (Pictured: An F-15DJ Eagle fighter of the Japan Air Self-Defense Force takes off from Chitose Air Base.)

In addition to acquiring advanced military assets, Tokyo plans to engage more in Japan-U.S. joint research and development to improve both countries’ defense capabilities.

“They realize that they have some gaps in their capabilities, and they’re also looking ahead to where gaps will likely arrive in the next five to 10 years,” Jeffrey Hornung, Japan defense analyst at Rand Corp., told FORUM. “They are committing not just to resources, but also trying to find manpower to fill these gaps.”

Enhanced military recruitment that reaches out to women and college graduates, raising the mandatory retirement age and “leveraging technological innovations such as artificial intelligence” are mentioned in the guidelines as ways to ease the burden of Japan’s shrinking labor pool.

The guidelines also emphasized that Japan will extend its close operational participation and strategy coordination with the U.S. Specifically, Japan will grow and develop participation in space and digital domains; air and missile defense; bilateral training and exercises; intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance; and bilateral deterrence.

Cooperation will also extend to Australia and India.

Despite Japan’s newly assertive approach to defense, Hornung clarified, the country remains constitutionally nonaggressive.

“Japan is not going to be going on the offense,” Hornung said. “It does not have offensive capabilities.”

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