No Time to Lose for Improving Japan's Defense Capabilities
-Can the JSDF Defend the Homeland?-

Ryoichi Oriki

1. Introduction

Aiming at completing the revision by this year-end of three key security policy documents, including the National Security Strategy (NSS), deliberations in the Japanese government are in full swing. There is an upsurge in public and media concern about this topic. In his book "A Study in History," English historian Arnold Toynbee states to the effect that a common trait of losers in human history is that they failed to notice changes; even if they did, they failed to respond. The security environment in, among other areas, East Asia is undergoing a dramatic transformation. In this context, the Japanese government is working proactively on revising the three strategic documents with a substantive shift in Japan's defense policy in mind. Drastic reinforcement of defense capabilities is a major issue to be addressed through revising these documents. This article is intended to provide timely insights into relevant challenges and responses.

2. Transformation of Japan's Defense Policy and Its Challenges

When considering Japan's postwar defense policy, the three pieces of policy decided by the Miki Cabinet (December 1974-December 1976) had a lasting impact. In February 1976, the Diet approved a broader interpretation of the "Three Principles on Arms Exports"; in October 1976, the Basic Defense Force Concept (National Defense Program Guidelines for FY1977 and beyond) was formulated; in November of the same year, the defense budget was set at 1% of GNP. The defense policy decided in the latter half of the so-called detente period did not undergo substantive discussion or fundamental reform in the last half a century but effectively remains intact, although there was revision and abrogation 1 along the way.

The NDPG was first formulated in 1976 following the Fourth Defense Build-up Plan (1972) and has been revised five times since then. The NDPG for FY1977 and beyond advocated the Basic Defense Force Concept based on the Beyond-the-Threat Theory. The NDPG for FY2011 and beyond under the DJP (Democratic Party of Japan) administration specified building a "dynamic defense force" that emphasizes mobility and readiness of forces, aiming at changing the Basic Defense Force Concept. In 2013 and 2018, the NDPGs formulated under the Abe Cabinet proposed a "dynamic joint defense force" and "multidimensional integrated defense force," respectively, and aimed at the alignment of the three branches of the Japan Self Defense Forces (JSDF), as well as the fusion of space, cyber, and JSDF capabilities in all domains. However, under the restraint of a defense budget of roughly 1% of GNP, the actual defense buildup had to be undertaken in conformity with the Basic Defense Force Concept. The revision of the three strategic documents, through which defense buildup may be substantively discussed and changed, will therefore have historical significance for Japan's defense policy.

3. Current Security Environment and Challenges

On October 12, 2022, the Biden administration released its "National Security Strategy." The document identified China as the only competitor in terms of economic, diplomatic, military, and technological capabilities and gave the China issue a top priority. It also stated that Russia is an imminent threat to the international system, highlighted the Sino-Russian alignment, and adopted a policy line of "maintaining a sustained competitive edge over China while keeping a dangerous Russia at bay." 2

Meanwhile, at the 20th Congress of the Communist Party of China (CPC) held in October 2022, General Secretary Xi Jinping was confirmed for a third term; China will accelerate its pursuit of the national goal of "leading the world in terms of composite national strength and international influence by the middle of the century," predicated on strengthening the centralized state regime. Concerning Taiwan, the revised CPC constitution enunciates that "the Party resolutely opposes and deters what it calls separatists seeking Taiwan independence." The unification of Taiwan with China is Xi Jinping's long-cherished wish. The situation surrounding Taiwan will be increasingly tense.

Given the above, it is foreseeable that the US-China relationship, which has a significant impact on international relations, will be primarily a harsh competition rather than cooperation, and the turmoil in the global order will likely be prolonged.

(Security Environment Surrounding Japan)

Japan is an outpost witnessing the US-China confrontation and military tension in Asia. This year marks the 10th anniversary of the nationalization of the Senkaku Islands. China incorporated the China Coast Guard into its armed police force in 2018. Under the Central Military Commission of the CPC, the CCG has increased pressure by repeatedly intruding into Japan's contiguous waters and territorial waters while enlarging the size and armament of its fleets. In August 2022, in response to a visit to Taiwan by US Speaker of the House Pelosi, China repeated military drills in an intimidating manner in the waters near Taiwan; five ballistic missiles it fired landed in Japan's EEZ. The Taiwan Strait issue is an urgent security challenge for Japan.

North Korea has, in recent years, made particular strides in improving its missile capabilities. As for its missile technology, North Korea has improved secrecy and immediacy associated with missile launching by firing missiles from TELs, railroad cars, and submarines. The country has developed irregular trajectory missiles and hypersonic glide missiles with an improved BMD-penetrating capability. It is also developing long-range missiles with a range reaching all of North America. In response to the recent resumption of US-ROK joint live-fire exercises, North Korea has thus far conducted a total of 28 rounds of missile launches―10 rounds since September 25 with an unusually high frequency (as of October 31). These are proof of North Korea's increased offensive capabilities. It is alarming to Japan that on October 4, North Korea's medium-range ballistic missile flew over its territory for the first time in five years and landed in the Pacific Ocean, allegedly traveling 4,600 kilometers―the longest-ever distance covered by a similar missile fired by North Korea. There are concerns about a seventh nuclear test by the North.

Russia has deployed on Japan's Northern Territories Su-35S fighter jets and new surface-to-ship and surface-to-air missiles. We must keep a watchful eye on the developments of the Russian military, including its cooperation and joint activities with China while staying vigilant against its aggression in Ukraine.

4. What Should We Learn from the Ukraine War?

On February 24, 2022, Russian President Putin announced the implementation of a "special military operation" aimed at, among other things, protecting the population of the Donbas region and launched aggression against Ukraine. This unilateral Russian aggression began with hybrid warfare, including information warfare, and shifted to high-intensity ground warfare. While the fierce battle is raging in Ukraine, Moscow has gone so far as to threaten the possible use of nuclear arms. The Ukraine war threatens the international community not only on the military front but also in social life. It is quite natural that the Japanese public is becoming increasingly aware of national security and defense issues.

(Russia's Miscalculations and Lessons from the Ukraine War)

Russia's primary miscalculation was its belief that it could quickly demilitarize and neutralize Ukraine. However, Russia's speculations have proved wrong thanks to the commendable leadership of President Zelensky, the strength of the Ukrainian troops, and the Ukrainian people's adamant will to resist. The United States and European countries are imposing concerted economic sanctions against Russia, continuing to provide military support for Ukraine. On the other hand, it is an undeniable fact that Ukraine failed to deter the invasion by Russian forces. Many of its citizens have left the country, while enormous human and material losses are growing domestically. These suggest the importance of deterrence to discourage the opponent from an invasion and the importance of having allies who share common interests.

When Russia unilaterally annexed the Crimea in southern Ukraine in 2014, Ukraine completely lost the hybrid warfare, including cyber-attacks. Since then, the Ukrainian government and critical infrastructure companies have been endeavoring to improve cyber defense capabilities, and now public-private alignment is functioning. Support from foreign governments and corporations, including the United States, the United Kingdom, and Estonia, has been helping prevent cyber-attack damages. 3

Moreover, Ukraine, anticipating another Russian invasion, strengthened its military, reinstated conscription in 2015, and conducted military training for future mobilization. Ukraine has demonstrated the importance of preparedness, whether by non-military or military means, through the eight years of military buildup since the Crimean annexation.

5. Transformation of Military Power and Combat Style

(Nuclear Deterrence and Credibility)

Regarding the Ukraine war, expert circles had discussed the threat of using nuclear weapons and the reliability of nuclear deterrence even before hostile actions began. Turning to Asia, China's nuclear arsenal is likely to acquire at least 1,000 nuclear warheads by 2030. The country allegedly possesses about 2,200 ground-launched medium-range missiles, including ballistic and cruise missiles. These missiles have a range covering all of Japan and Guam, constituting a crucial factor upsetting the balance of power between the United States and China. In Asia, the United States is facing a situation in which the US military's forward-deployment and force-projection capabilities could be circumscribed. Given Russia's actions in Ukraine and the development by China and North Korea of ballistic missiles as a vehicle to deliver nuclear weapons, Japan needs to have deep discussions with the United States in extended deterrence talks, assuming that nuclear weapons could be used as an offensive force rather than as intimidation.

(China's Strengthening Military Power and Changing Situations)

Over the past three decades, China has continuously increased its defense spending at a high level and has extensively and rapidly strengthened the quality and quantity of its military power—particularly its nuclear and missile forces, alongside naval and air forces, aiming to develop the PLA into a world-class military by the middle of the 21st century, thereby rivaling or surpassing the US military. To such an end, the "intelligentization" of the military is a prerequisite; China seems to aim to build an army that could "fight and win over" the US military in the "intelligentized warfare" 4 in the future. 5

In recent years, China seems to be seeking to enhance its A2/AD capabilities to build operational capabilities in more distant maritime and airspace areas. As part of this effort, it has rapidly expanded and intensified its activities, "normalizing" its advance into the Western Pacific. According to data prepared by the US Indo-Pacific Command, China's military sphere of influence as of 2025 will likely extend to the Western Pacific; the balance of forces between the United States and China will tilt in favor of China. 6 The era in which the US military used to secure overwhelming air and sea superiority in the Western Pacific is passing. An acute necessity is felt to adopt strategies and operations based on this assumption. This is a vital challenge for the Japan-US alliance; Japan's defense operations under the threat of China's A2/AD umbrella will have to review the roles of shield and spear between Japan and the United States while always keeping US military operations in mind.

(The Principle of Preparing for High-Intensity Warfare)

In conventional armed warfare, on top of hybrid warfare including cyber warfare, information warfare that sends out and proliferates disinformation—efforts to "win without fighting, or make victory easier" have been pursued. Meanwhile, the current operations in Ukraine consist of ground battles using conventional forces and firepower. Non-military means, such as cyber warfare, are increasingly employed alongside traditional military ones. Yet the Ukraine war indicates that troops are the mainstay of any battle and that non-military means are significant as long as they can support the troops. 7 So-called hybrid warfare occupies a crucial position in contemporary warfare, but the result of ground battles will ultimately determine the fate of war. Adequate preparedness for war requires a broad range of military and non-military preparations, always considering high-intensity warfare as the archetype of modern warfare, even as the times change.

(Evolution of Cutting-Edge Technologies and Changes in Combat Style)

We are at the threshold of a "great turning point" in which superiority in technological capabilities, particularly cutting-edge technologies, will directly affect international order and security. On the military front, intensive efforts are undertaken by different countries to develop game-changing equipment employing cutting-edge technologies. For example, unmanned technology combined with AI will take future military operations into a completely different dimension from what we have experienced to date. In the military conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan in 2020, some self-destructing attack drones were confirmed to have been employed. Chinese drones are frequently operating in Taiwan and around the Senkaku Islands; the situation demands a strict response from our side. In non-military areas, research and development and practical use of space, stealth technology, supersonic high energy, etc. are remarkable. The combat style is changing; it is time to prepare for new trends.

6. Drastic Reinforcement of Defense Capabilities

As discussed earlier, the security environment is currently undergoing vital changes. We should recognize that it is daily and rapidly becoming severer and that anything could happen depending on the design of the adversary. Moreover, Japan's position as an archipelagic nation is losing its security advantage due to the sophistication of military equipment by other countries. It is high time for Japan to build a security system with defense capabilities at its nucleus by mustering the nation's comprehensive strength. There is no time to lose for Japan to improve its defense capabilities.

Prime Minister Kishida expressed his determination in a Japan-US joint statement in May of this year to consider every possible defense option, including the capability to counter missile threats and to, for this purpose, drastically strengthen Japan's defense capabilities and secure a substantial increase in defense spending. He mentioned on various occasions that his administration will fundamentally reinforce Japan's defense capabilities, the ultimate guarantee of national security, within the next five years.

The Japanese public's awareness of defense is also rising in response to the Ukraine war and changes in the security environment around Japan. According to an October poll by the Yomiuri Shimbun, about 70% of respondents were in favor of increasing defense capabilities. As for the increase of defense spending to 2% of GNP, the financial resources necessary for this measure become more of a focus than its necessity.

(Defense Objectives and the New Directionality of Defense Capabilities)

According to the Ministry of Defense's handout for an October 20 meeting of the "Advisory Panel to Comprehensively Discuss Defense Capabilities as National Strength," "Given the current security environment, Japan needs to become a nation possessing defense capabilities to discourage an adversary from invading Japan. Japan's defense objective should be to deter unilateral changes in the status quo by force. If deterrence is neutralized, Japan should assume primary responsibility for dealing with any invasion of Japan and should, with support from allied nations, prevent or eliminate such an attempt." The document also sets forth "the new directionality of defense capabilities to adopt a new style of combat: the buildup of practical core defense capabilities; an expansion in quality and quantity of new domains such as space and cyber; standoff defense capabilities, unmanned asset defense capabilities, etc."

(Defense Buildup)

The premises for the formulation of a defense strategy and for defense buildup are, in general, to clarify the purpose and need of defense capabilities and to gain the correct insights into who are current and future adversaries; what are their capabilities and designs; the future of the Japan-US alliance. Especially since the designs of adversaries are hard to clarify, we should build up defense capabilities based on a prospect for future situations and on a worst-case scenario. In other words, we must first harmonize defense buildup with the state strategy and the operational concept of the JSDF. For this purpose, a state defense strategy and a joint strategy of the JSDF must be formulated, replacing the current national defense program guidelines. Of course, the role sharing between the JSDF and the US military is essential. Ultimately, it is necessary to go back to the fundamental principle of defense buildup and to promote close coordination between the following factors: the deployment, formation, and equipment of units; SDF's human resources applicable to new domains of activity; systems programs; the size of stockpiles; education and training; and recruitment, thereby developing practical defense capabilities in the real sense of the word.

(Drastic Reinforcement of Defense Capabilities)

Defense capabilities must be drastically strengthened to be capable of deterring threats and of responding to actual warfare. To this end, it is primarily necessary to examine the existing land, sea, and air defense capabilities and then to first of all compensate and improve the shortcomings. In doing so, we must not forget not only to reinforce particular fields and functions but also to raise the military potential of the JSDF as a whole, from front-line units to logistics units. Specifically, the following may be areas for urgent improvement: a command and control system for each branch of the JSDF and their integration; an information system directly related to operations; a transportation system that enables rapid mobility of personnel and goods throughout Japan; ammunition reserves and ammunition depots necessary to enhance war sustainability; the improvement of the operational availability of defense equipment by securing equipment parts; and the improvement of survivability by upgrading base and airfield facilities.

Secondly, high-priority defense capabilities should include stand-off defense capabilities; comprehensive air and missile defense capabilities; unmanned asset defense capabilities; cross-domain operational capabilities; command and control and intelligence-related functions; maneuvering and deployment capability; and sustainability and resiliency—listed by the Ministry of Defense as the seven pillars of its FY2023 budget request. Rather than only examining these defense capabilities by function, it is necessary to interrelate and develop them comprehensively to make them workable. The following functional areas should be given higher priority: (1) a command and control system that enables effective joint operations; (2) an information system that supports timely and prompt operations, which should be given overriding priority as the key to successful operations; (3) stand-off defense capabilities to strengthen deterrence commensurate with Japan's security environment, which should be assigned to the three branches of the JSDF as part of counterattack capabilities; for whose development Japanese technology will be made the most of; and for whose procurement, cooperation with the US military will be needed; (4) under the circumstances where the balance of forces between the United States and China is tilting in favor of China, airports, sea ports, and harbors available from peacetime and scattered in the Nansei Islands, Southern Kyushu, and Shikoku should be improved to enhance combat sustainability and survivability of naval vessels and aircraft, or from the perspective of collaboration with US forces; (5) the promotion of the use of space, such as small-satellite constellations for observation, detection, and communication.

Thirdly comes the development and enhancement of the defense industrial base to support the above defense efforts. In the case of Japan, the defense industry is responsible for the entire life cycle of defense equipment ranging from technological research and development, production, maintenance, and performance improvement to decommissioning; in this sense, the activities of the JSDF and the defense industry are inseparable. There is an urgent need to improve and promote measures to maintain and strengthen the defense production and technology base, with the renewed awareness that the defense industry is a force for national defense. Furthermore, the Japanese government should take the initiative in promoting transferring defense equipment and technology from a national strategic perspective.

Fourthly comes the establishment of an optimum R&D system and the swift development of defense equipment. Technological capability, particularly cutting-edge technology, is one of the most cardinal pillars of national security; if Japan falls behind in this area, its national security will be in jeopardy. Primarily, a mechanism for cooperation between industry, government, and academia in dual technology development should be established and given top priority. In addition, to acquire cutting-edge technologies that will be game changers for the military, it is vital to incorporate into national strategy new domain technologies like AI and quantum technologies, and cultivate and utilize them as technologies unique to our country. However, no matter how excellent results come from R&D efforts, it would mean nothing if those technologies failed to be converted into defense equipment. In Japan, shortening the development period of defense equipment is a problem; at the same time, the acquisition of defense equipment following the long-established renewal-after-wear procedure is a time-consuming process, obliging the JSDF units to combat with obsolete, outdated equipment. It is essential to secure the flexibility of the whole process of defense equipment acquisition by reviewing the budget system and to further promote efforts such as spiralization and modularization, which aim for the deployment of prototype equipment—if passing muster—to the units and for its mass production, even if the equipment in question is still in an R&D stage or being developed in some academic research work.

Fifthly comes the strengthening of the overriding human resource base to ultimately support and promote the above efforts. Human resources are the foundation of the JSDF or a key element contributing to its combat sustainability. Unmanned equipment could not do all human work. It takes time to train and educate SDF personnel. In this era of declining birth rates, recruiting competent SDF personnel is very hard, and the JSDF faces difficulties in strengthening human defense capability. Currently, the Ministry of Defense prioritizes the elimination of the gap between capacity and enrollment. In parallel with this, the Ministry must secure experts, including civilians, in new domains such as space and cyber and improve the potential of the JSDF. Another way to secure a substantial amount of manpower is to systemically utilize retired SDF officers, who can not only serve in highly specialized jobs in contingencies but also supplement active SDF personnel in peacetime in such work by using their experience and knowledge as recruitment, logistic support like supply and maintenance, exercise area management, and the management of garrisons and bases. They are suitable for such work.

7. Conclusion

Defense capability improvement cannot be done overnight but will take a long time. It took even a militarily expanding China 20 to 30 years to have built up its military capability to the current level through continuous budgetary investment. In addition to the short-term intensive efforts to strengthen its defense capabilities, Japan needs to acquire a long-term perspective. What is in need in this connection is strong political leadership and a coherent national strategy. Japan's defense buildup has been confined by budgetary limits into only what was possible under the limitations. Unquestionably, we must develop defense capabilities with limited resources. Yet, the times are changing drastically. Japan's future will be endangered unless the Japanese government takes concerted action to protect the people and safeguard the national interest, however severe the situation may be. The present author wishes that Japan's defense buildup will proceed steadily, continuously, and speedily. What matters is what should be done, not what could be.

(Former Chief of Staff, Joint Staff, Former Land General)

(Translation by Tsutomu Inuzuka)

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