Japan adopts new radical defence plan amid China threat; to redefine next-gen military capabilities

Japan’s Prime Minister Kishida unveiled a radical strategy for building military capabilities. The massive military budgets aim to address and redefine its firepower amid China threat across full spectrum of modern warfare.

Japan adopts new radical defence plan amid China threat; to redefine next-gen military capabilities
Japan's attack submarine Taigei-class

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida unveiled a radical strategy for building the country’s military capabilities. He announced the biggest-ever military budget across all three divisions of the Japan Self-Defence Forces (JSDF). 

Kishida plans to spend $318 billion on the military over the next five years. Breaking from its historic stance of being a pacificist military, Japan has embarked on a capability-building roadmap as the country seeks to build up its defence strategy, including the use of pre-emptive strikes. This is breaking away from Japan’s self-defence-only post-war military doctrine.

Japan also aims to double its military budget in the next five to ten years to about 2% of GDP. The pace of the announcement reflects the urgency as Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada also signalled that Finance Minister Shunichi Suzuki will work on a budget plan to increase Japan’s 2023-2027 military spending by more than 50% from 27.5 trillion yen. Overall, the plan is to double Japan’s annual defence budget to about 10 trillion yen ($70 billion).

The radical defence budget

The defence strategy outlines that Japan is working to build a “Multi-Domain Defence Force”. This force will be equipped with capabilities in space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum, capabilities in the maritime and air domains, comprehensive air and missile defence capabilities to respond to diverse airborne threats, standoff defence capability, manoeuvring and deployment capability, and secure ammunition and ensure maintenance of equipment.

Based on this force, Japan has decided to move up budget implementation for projects planned for the FY2023 initial budget, in order to accelerate its defence capabilities from FY2022.

Critical air superiority   

Japan is already part of the most advanced combat jet programme—F-35. The JSDF has acquired eight stealth fifth-generation F-35A fighters and four F-35B fighters. 

Next, Japan also wants to upgrade its stable warhorse – the F-15. The F-15 will go through massive upgradation in order to maintain the number of squadrons it has. The F-15 upgradation will continue until the development of the next-generation combat concept F-X reaches the prototype stage. 

The total cost of project F-X is estimated at around $40 billion and the government has already allocated $700 million this year. At the same time, the UK, Italy, and Japan have announced a joint working mechanism for the Global Combat Air Programme (GCAP), which is a new partnership to develop combat jets. 

It is still not clear if the development of F-X can be merged with GCAP. If that happens, the GCAP will be among the biggest programmes for sixth-generation combat jets. Already, with the announcement of GCAP, the UK has merged its fighter jet project – the Tempest – with Italy and Japan for its sixth-generation fighter jet. According to an official involved in the project, GCAP will leverage the UK’s Tempest and Japan’s F-X programmes.

The next step is the development and integration of the futuristic weapons. As per a recent announcement, GCAP will incorporate a network of capabilities such as uncrewed aircraft, advanced sensors, cutting-edge weapons, and innovative data systems. This will include the development of an upgraded Type-12 surface-to-ship guided missile (surface-, ship-, and air-to-ship missile) and a launch project for the critical Hyper Velocity Gliding Projectile (HVGP) for the defence of the remote island. 

Under the new plan, Japan is also relaunching its project for the development of a surface-to-air missile system for base air defence and a new close-range surface-to-air missile.

Not limited to the combat jet, the defence ministry of Japan has called for the procurement of a new utility helicopter (UH-2). This will address the gaps in its rotary wing and strengthen its area of tactical operation of conducting airborne manoeuvres and transporting and deploying units immediately. Japan will build the next-generation UH-2 based on the success of the UH-1J utility helicopter.

Japan leverages the full spectrum of air superiority, including space. Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) does have a critical project in the unmanned domain, especially in Intelligence, Reconnaissance and Surveillance (ISR). The new plan focuses more on space assets.

The plan talks about AI technology for tracking moving targets using satellite constellations. The use of AI is designed for conducting ISR activities using satellite constellations to predict the positions of multiple moving targets automatically. Analysts have pointed out the effectiveness of satellite-based ISR for covering oceanic geography. In fact, the concept of ISR activities through a satellite constellation is what India is also addressing. India’s Defence Space Agency (DSA) has been focusing on areas such as Electronic Intelligence (ELINT), Communications Intelligence (COMMINT) and space-based tracking through a similar concept of satellite constellations.

It is important to highlight that China’s Small Satellite (SmSat) manufacturing capacities have expanded significantly. The China Academy of Space Technology (CAST) at its Tianjin manufacturing facility in Northern China can produce more than 250 SmSat a year. China’s Peoples Liberation Army’ (PLA) has prioritised its Space-Ground Integrated Information Network (SGIIN) programme. How it is unfolding is clear from the development of its Guowang low-earth orbit (LEO) super satellite constellation of SmSats. Reports point out that Guowang might be a 13,000-strong satellite network deployed in LEO which is probably one of the largest in scale and its scope of operation.

Instead of drone-based ISR, it works in frequent intervals and makes it possible to keep track of targets. Japanese military analysts have also indicated the emphasis on high-sensitivity, broadband infrared detector elements and high-performance infrared sensors. It will empower Japan to have the most advanced and critical assets to collect intelligence imagery from further distances than existing sensors, including the space domain.

Strengthening capabilities in electromagnetic domain

Japan’s defence capability remains focused on the new-tech and evolving military technology. The efficacy of the systems and weapons based on electromagnetic technology is gaining popularity, with militaries around the world working on them, although most are still in the early stage of development.

In its development roadmap, Japan has put the thrust on electronic warfare (EW) aircraft and support air operations which are all based on effective communication jamming.  It plans to demonstrate high-power microwave (HPM) radiation technology. The research on high-energy laser systems is in an advanced stage. It includes conducting research on EW evaluation technology and addressing future EW evaluation systems to accurately understand and evaluate the performance of increasingly sophisticated and high-performance electronic warfare devices.

Maritime firepower

Japan is largely a maritime nation. The budgetary allocation has almost been doubled in order to respond to the modernization of the maritime and air forces of neighbouring countries such as China.

The Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) has a fleet of nineteen diesel-electric attack submarines: nine Oyashio-class and ten Soryu-class vessels. The new defence plan projects its marine firepower through its next generation Taigei-class diesel-electric attack submarine which is also fitted with Air-independent propulsion (AIP) system. It is reported that JMSDF operates eleven AIP based submarine.

To boost the capabilities under its offensive and tactical plan, JSMDF aims to improve anti-ship attack capabilities, including the installation of improved Type-12 surface-to-ship guided missile capabilities (air-to-ship launch type), and enhance network functions.

Besides its operational submarine, it also includes the refurbishment of deadly Izumo-class destroyers.

India-Japan defence collaboration

Japan is well aligned with India on the strategic front but the defence cooperation is limited to high-stake military exercises. India and Japan are critical countries for the Indo-Pacific Strategy. Both are important QUAD members and conduct high-tempo military exercises in the maritime domain alongside the U.S. and Australia.

In the past, Japan offered its amphibious aircraft — the US-2– to India but the deal failed to materialize. So far, this has been the only military equipment proposal between the nations. Part of the reason for this is the restrictions on arms export under the strict guidelines in the Japanese constitution. In fact, the radical move towards adopting the new military doctrine is still under debate in Japan which restricts military tech transfer to another country.

Despite these existing challenges, Japan has shown a willingness to supply advanced sub-systems to India for its warships. India is keen to acquire hi-calibre stealth antennas for its warships.  

One of the possibilities lies in joint cooperation in a next-generation submarine project P-75I. The ambitious project is under the strategic partnership model which requires a submarine to be fitted with Air Independent Propulsion(AIP) System. In fact, Japan does possess such a capability, especially in the area of advanced lithium batteries. Japan’s Soryu-class submarine has the proven technology to remain submerged for a long time. Japan is pushing the boundaries in assimilating new tech in its newly launched Taigei-class diesel-electric attack submarine for the Japan Maritime Self-Defence Force (JMSDF). The powerful submarine is equipped with lithium-ion in place of lead-acid batteries. More so, Japan is the only country in the world to have succeeded in fitting lithium-ion batteries in its attack submarine.

In addition to maritime collaboration, the scope of the cooperation can extend to aero-engine design and manufacturing. It fits well within the scope of India-Japan strategic relations. In fact, Japan has re-focused on the development of F-X, designing and manufacturing engines and starting on the basic design of the airframe. It matches a similar approach that India is also taking towards post-LCA Tejas’ induction in the Indian Air Force. Japan’s new defence plan presents presents a great opportunity for the joint development of an aero-engine for India’s next-generation Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) and LCA Tejas Mk2.

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First published on: 22-12-2022 at 19:56 IST
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