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Japan thrusts on indigenous Defense capability and defense cooperation amid security threat from China and North Korea

Japan has replaced North Korea with China as the top security threat to the country, citing Beijing’s growing defense expenditure and strength as well as its expansion of military activities in the region. “The reality is that China is rapidly increasing military spending, and so people can grasp that we need more pages,” said Japan’s Defense Minister, Taro Kono, in  press briefing.


China’s territorial claims in the South China Sea – through which about £3.9trillion in ship-borne trade passes each year – are contested by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam. In the East China Sea, disputed islands have soured relations between Beijing and Tokyo for decades, and led to tense stand-offs between Chinese and Japanese warplanes and ships.


“China is deploying air and sea assets in the Western Pacific and through the Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan with greater frequency,” Kono added according to Reuters. Further underlining the Chinese threat, Tokyo’s defense review also expressed concerns over Beijing’s rapid advancement of its capabilities in new security fields such as cyber security, and expansion of military activities in regional waters and airspace.


China has the world’s largest navy, with a greater number of battle force ships and submarines than the United States, the world’s foremost military power, according to the U.S. data, based on 2019 developments. China has also engaged in upgrading its anti-submarine capability over the last few years through measures such as “Underwater Great Wall”, a string of submerged sensors, buoys and drone submarines and QUIDs. These projects will help China extend its offshore surveillance zone.


China also has more than 1,250 ground-launched ballistic missiles and ground-launched cruise missiles with ranges between 500 km (311 miles) and 5,500 km, a longer range than the United States. The United States has no ground-launched cruise missiles, the U.S. data said, after signing arms control agreements with Russia that China is not subject to.


On North Korea, the report maintained the recognition that its military activities pose “grave and imminent threats to Japan’s security,” insisting that there has been “no essential change” in Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile capabilities, and that it has “already successfully miniaturized nuclear weapons to fit ballistic missile warheads.”


The report further expressed a sense of vigilance against Russia’s military activities near Japanese airspace, saying that Tokyo needs to pay “close attention” to. It also said that a joint flight in July by Russian and Chinese bombers over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea suggests Moscow and Beijing have been promoting their military cooperation.


In response to the threats from China and Nort Korea, Japan has reviewed the country’s Basic Self-Defense Policy, in place since 1957, and signed the new Dynamic Defense Policy into law. Under the new policy, Japan regained the proactive ability to defend its territory and to contribute to international peace and stability. China and North Korea are main concerns that Japan faces.  According to the document, Tokyo has increased its military spending by a tenth over the past seven years to counter military advances by Beijing and Pyongyang, which included utilizing US-built air defense systems to protect Japan against North Korean missiles which may be armed with nuclear warheads.


The Japanese Defence White Paper 2020 (JDWP) released on July 2020 has more criticism of China than before. It is the first time that a JDWP has characterised China’s actions around the Senkaku Islands as “relentlessly seeking to affect Japans control over them at the time of the Covid crisis”. Worried about the rapid increase in China’s capabilities and intent, the Japanese paper recognises the priorities of its major ally, the United States. It is cautious, that through the militarisation of outlying islands in areas claimed under the Nine Dash Line, China uses various means to seek alteration in the regional status quo, to the disadvantage of other countries. This is especially as the region focuses on its response to the pandemic.


The paper is of the view that ‘grey zones’ of hostility without war, over economic, resources and sovereignty related issues are increasing, and that there is a lack of a regional architecture on security issues. COVID-19 is having an impact on military preparedness and response. The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) is seen as providing China with growing clout though the project and policy it is getting a bit cloudy now.


Japan is also facing US pressure to buy more American military equipment and join Washington to counter China and  reportedly planning to increase its defense spending to a record high level over the next five years amid heightened security concerns. Japan has significntly increased its military spending  in response to security challenges in the region and to narrow trade surplus with the US through additional purchases of American equipment. Between 2017 and 2020, Japan’s defence budget grew by 2.75 percent to reach $48.5 billion in 2020 from $47.2 billion in 2017. ‘Defense-related expenditures for 2020 were increased by 61.8 billion yen from the previous fiscal year to 5.0688 trillion yen (an increase of 1.2% from the previous year). Defence-related expenditure has increased for eighth consecutive years’ notes the JDWP.


Japan enhancing its military capability

Defence White Paper calls for Japan to improve its production of military weaponry and naval assets. This paper endeavours to look at this aspect of Japans defence policy. The document emphasises the Pillars for Japan’s Defence, including Strategic Promotion of Multi-Faceted and Multi-Layered Defense Cooperation, Responses in the Domains of Space, Cyberspace and Electromagnetic Spectrum and Response to Large-Scale Disasters.


The JDWP strategises on priorities in enhancing Japan’s military capabilities to allow it to provide for the alterations in its security environment. Cross-Domain Operations, including a greater emphasis on space, cyberspace and electro-magnetic spectrum, are to be undertaken. Improved capability in traditional sectors such as maritime, air power and missile defence are also envisaged. Securing maritime shipping lanes, protecting its infrastructure, enhancing its technology and military industrial base, are highlighted.


Japan’s Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) is a tiered defence system with Aegis carrying destroyers and the Patriot PAC-3, coordinated by the Japan Aerospace Defense Ground Environment (JADGE). The land-based Aegis deployment has been deferred in June. Japan is purchasing US-built stealth war planes and other advanced weaponry. In its latest budget request, Japan’s military asked for ¥115.6 billion ($1.1 billion) to acquire nine Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters, including six short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variants to operate from converted helicopter carriers.


The American jet fighters, interceptor missiles and other military hardware are part of a proposed 1.2 percent increase in defense spending to a record 5.32 trillion yen in the year starting April 1. Traditionally, Japan’s defense partner for the last 70 years has been the US, and Tokyo has purchased the vast majority of the hardware that it was unable to develop domestically from US companies. That reliance on the US “limited” Japan’s choices, Mulloy said, particularly when it comes to systems that are the most appropriate fit for Japan’s specific defense concerns.


Since 2014, Japan has lifted the embargo on exports. In 2015, it held its first arms exhibition. However, its ability to penetrate overseas markets remains limited. The effort is meant to boost economies of scale, but the systems offered are few. They have delivered non-lethal patrol boats to ASEAN countries under the Official Development Assistance (ODA). Philippines acquired TC-90 aircraft for surveillance.


Despite dealing with COVID-19, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. was awarded the contract for the Philippine Air Force’s air surveillance radar systems project; Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding launched the third Hibiki-Class ocean surveillance ship and were expecting more orders as Japan launched its Space Operations Squadron.  In the 2020 defence budget, $459.2 million is budgeted for space-related projects, such as procurement of Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Satellite (Space-based Optical Telescope), enhancing satellite communication systems and so on.


The cyber security budget of $240 million, includes the procurement of Cyber Information Gathering System and AI Systems to react to cyber-warfare. Shin Maywah, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Japan Steel Works and Toshiba Corporation took a larger market share during the current period, with new initiatives and innovations being undertaken by these companies.


Japan steps up defense cooperation with numerous countries

Japan said in June 2021 that  China’s military intentions are unclear and its armed forces’ rapid expansion is of serious concern, circumstances that require Europe, the United States and other Asian nations to come together to stand up to Beijing. “China has been in beefing up its military capacity very rapidly and we are not sure what the Chinese intentions are,” Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi told the European Parliament’s security and defence sub-committee.


As the threat of China to a rule-based international order is enhanced, the Quad grouping of the US, India, Japan and Australia is seen as a robust response to this. The JDWP does not mention the Quad directly, but cooperation with its members is high in its reckoning of the Free and Open Indo Pacific. India is mentioned only in the context of defence cooperation and exchanges under the 2+2 dialogue. In recent weeks, the Quad has exercised in the region with the aircraft carrier groups of the US Navy when in their vicinity. The Malabar Exercise is also likely to include Australia to make it a complete Quad. This exercise is more focused than the 27 country Cobra Gold or the Komodo organised by Thailand and Indonesia respectively.


Participation in the Quad shows Japan’s resolve to play a larger role within its region. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ‘Free and Open Indo Pacific Vision’ is a manifestation of this, including through its enhanced naval capacities. The JDWP states: “The Indo-Pacific region is the core of the world’s vitality, supporting more than half the world’s population. It is important to establish this region as a free and open global commons to secure peace and prosperity in the region as a whole.”


Japan is also  building a much broader and diverse range of multi-dimensional defense cooperation agreements with numerous other countries.  Australia and Japan are set to discuss a major defense co-operation pact, against the backdrop of an increasingly assertive China and lingering concerns over the US commitment to the Asia-Pacific region. Malcolm Turnbull, Australia’s prime minister, and Shinzo Abe  are finalising a “visiting forces agreement” with  in Tokyo, which could see both nations’ armed forces train in each other’s countries.


India and Japan have agreed to collaborate closely in defence production, including on dual- use technologies, as the two countries resolved to ramp up overall military engagement under the bilateral special strategic framework. In a significant visit to Japan in Sep 2019, Indian defence minister Rajnath Singh held successful meetings with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Japanese defence minister Takeshi Iwaya. During the visit the desire of the two countries to take their strategic and defence cooperation to the next level was strongly emphasised.As for their bilateral maritime cooperation, both navies are conducting annual exercises, with Japan participating in the annual India-US Malabar exercises on a regular basis. Now, the three countries conduct joint exercises in all the three wings of the defence forces.


Japan and Germany have signed an agreement on the joint development of new defense technology. [Japan and Germany] are considering all kinds of possibilities for defence equipment and technology co-operation,” said the ATLA spokesperson. “Nothing specific has been fixed yet.” It has also signed agreements earlier with the United States and Britain, with subsequent deals also linking Japan’s defense sector with France and the Netherlands. Japan plans to conclude separate treaties on transfer of defense equipment and technology with Italy, Germany and Sweden that will give Japan’s Self-Defense Forces access to advanced technology from those countries.

Japan and Germany  Collaboration

It is also understood that the two countries will look to use the accord as a framework for collaboration on the joint development of land systems, particularly engines for military vehicles including a new 8×8 armoured personnel carrier (APC) currently being developed by Japanese corporation Komatsu, as reported by Janes.


The European country boasts strength in ground equipment; the gun barrels for the Type-90 battle tanks used by Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force were developed by a German company. Japanese-made tanks, meanwhile, excel in mobility and acceleration. The two countries see a high potential for synergy in developing tanks together. “There are other systems that Japan is intent on jointly developing, such as body armor that uses ceramics and add-on armor for vehicles, where Germany has a good deal of operational experience,” Mulloy said. Japan is hoping to market its advanced technology in the areas of radar and communications tools, while it also very much hopes to acquire or jointly develop smaller weapons systems, warships and noise-suppression technology, such as the systems used in submarines and which European firms excel at.


Japan, Australia agree to boost defense cooperation amid rising China

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison agreed Friday to deepen defense cooperation in the face of China’s growing influence in the region, while expressing their support for a free multilateral trading system.


With Japan viewing Australia as a “quasi-ally,” the two also agreed to seek the conclusion early next year of a reciprocal access agreement to facilitate joint military exercises and other activities of their defense forces in each other’s countries. A revised acquisition and cross-servicing agreement took effect in July last year, allowing the countries to provide ammunition and other defense supplies to each other.


Japan and UK Collaboration

The British aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and its strike group will visit Japanese ports in September  2021 for joint exercises, defense ministers from Japan and Britain said as the two countries step up military ties amid increased Chinese assertiveness in regional seas. British defense secretary Ben Wallace said the visit by the Royal Navy’s largest warship is part of his country’s “Indo-Pacific tilt” that shares goals with Japan. “Both our countries seek to protect and uphold the rules-based international order,” Wallace said at a joint news conference after meeting with his Japanese counterpart, Nobuo Kishi. Japan has been seeking to expand and deepen security ties with other nations in addition to its chief ally, the United States, as China presses its claims to contested areas in the South China Sea and to the Japanese-controlled Senkaku islands, which China also claims and calls Diaoyu.


Japan’s Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Agency and the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Defense have concluded an agreement to explore options for co-developing an advanced fighter jet, according to a press release by the Japanese Ministry of Defense. The agreement stipulates that both countries will exchange information about advanced aviation technology and also conduct a joint study on the feasibility of co-developing a new fighter aircraft in the coming years.


The press release further notes that Japan will continue to explore fighter jet co-development options with other countries. “Regarding the possibility of international joint development on fighter aircraft in the future, we will continue to exchange views with other countries,” the MoD statement reads. While the next-generation fighter jet project would be the biggest Japan-UK collaboration on sensitive defense technology so far, both countries are also a working on jointly developing a new ramjet-powered, beyond a visual range air-to-air missile.


One key area that Mulloy expects Japan and European countries to cooperate on is a next-generation air-to-air missile. Development of the MBDA Meteor active radar missile is being led by the UK defense sector, although with significant input from German companies. The missile will have a range in excess of 100 km and is being fitted to Eurofighter Typhoons, including those deployed by the Royal Air Force and Germany’s Luftwaffe. “This is an extremely good weapon and it has US companies worried as they try to push their own systems,” Mulloy said. The Japanese, meanwhile, use the AAM-4 air-to-air missile, which has arguably the best target-seeking technology in the world. Its drawback is that it is large and therefore not able to fit inside the interior weapons bays of the latest generation of stealth fighters. If the relative advantages of the Meteor and the AAM-4 can be combined, Mulloy believes the weapon will be a world-beater.


Japan- Italy collaboration

Japan agreed to begin negotiations with Italy when Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met his Italian counterpart, Paolo Gentiloni, in March. Later this month, Italian Defense Minister Roberta Pinotti will visit Japan, where she will meet with her Japanese counterpart, Tomomi Inada, to discuss ways to conclude the treaty as early as possible.

Italy is a maritime nation and possesses advanced technology on naval guns as well as radar for vessels and patrol aircraft. Keen to bolster its maritime capabilities, Japan is eager to find areas of collaboration.


Japan –Sweden

Japan is interested in Sweden’s air-independent propulsion technology, which enables submarines to remain underwater for long periods. Japan’s Defense Ministry officials hope to collaborate with the country to gain access to such know-how.


India, Japan to step up defence cooperation

India and Japan have agreed to collaborate closely in defence production, including on dual- use technologies, as the two countries resolved to ramp up overall military engagement under the bilateral special strategic framework. he two sides also agreed to ramp up counter-terror cooperation, besides deepening engagement among navies, air forces and ground forces of the two countries.



Seeking to further intensify naval cooperation, Onodera expressed his intention to have state-of-the-art Japanese assets, including P-1 maritime patrol aircraft to participate in next year’s trilateral Malabar naval exercise which also involves the US Navy. “The two sides will consider inclusion of Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) training to expand cooperation. In addition the ministers agreed to pursue exchanges and training by ASW aviation units such as P-3C,” the statement said. P-3C ..


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