Enhancing Japan’s defence capabilities

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A Japanese navy crew member stands on the flight deck of the JS Izumo naval ship. The cost of refurbishing the destroyer Izumo for operating fighter jets is included in the Japanese defence ministry’s request. AFP

It is important to steadily build up defense capabilities in light of changes in the security environment and advances in military technology.

Japan’s Defence Ministry’s budget request for fiscal 2021 totalled a record ¥5.4898 trillion ($52 billion). If the increased defence spending is approved, it will be the ninth year in a row the defense budget has increased. The emphasis in the request is on dealing with the new defence domains of space, cyber and electromagnetic waves.

China and North Korea are enhancing their capabilities in these new domains. If Japan’s satellites and defence systems are attacked, Aegis-equipped vessels and fighter jets will be neutralised. It makes sense to strengthen cyber-defence and space surveillance systems.

For the space-related domain, the ministry is appropriating ¥72.4 billion ($683 million). This includes costs for designing satellites to monitor space debris and other countries’ satellites.

The budget request also calls for research on a satellite constellation, in which many satellites are launched to serve as a missile defence system. The aim is to detect and track hypersonic glide vehicles developed by China and Russia, which are considered to be difficult to intercept.

The concept of building a defence network in space has been proposed by the US. The government is considering the possibility of joint operations between Japan and the US. The feasibility and cost-effectiveness of this plan must be thoroughly assessed.

As for cyber-defence, the ministry plans to reorganise the existing organisations and create a joint force of the Ground, Maritime and Air Self-Defence Forces. There is an urgent need to develop specialist personnel.

Meanwhile, in conventional domains, the ministry requested ¥66.6 billion for the purchase of state-of-the-art fighter jets. The cost of refurbishing the destroyer Izumo for operating fighter jets is included in this request.

The security environment around Japan is becoming increasingly severe. However, with the worsening fiscal situation, it is impossible to procure expensive equipment endlessly. The government needs to set priorities and introduce defence equipment in a planned manner. It is essential to review the equipment and improve efficiency.

The ministry intends to decide on alternatives to the land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system at the end of the year. In addition to destroyers and merchant ships, facilities like oil rigs have been mentioned as candidates for installing radar and other equipment.

The deployment of new destroyers would increase the burden on the Maritime Self-Defence Force, which is short on personnel. There are still concerns about safety for vessels like privately owned merchant ships. Multifaceted studies must be done on this issue.

The US has demanded Japan and other allies put defense spending at two per cent of their gross domestic products (GDP). Japan’s defence expenditures in fiscal 2019 equaled 0.9 per cent of its GDP.

Japan’s provision of bases keeps the US in a dominant position in the Asia-Pacific region, contributing to the US national interest. The Japanese government should tenaciously explain this fact to the US.