The sixth edition of the Japan India Maritime Exercise 2022, JIMEX 22 hosted by the Indian Navy concluded in the Bay of Bengal with the two sides bidding farewell to each other with a customary steam past on 17 Sep 22. The exercise, which marked the tenth anniversary of JIMEX since its inception in 2012, consolidated the mutual understanding and interoperability between the two navies.
JIMEX 22 witnessed some of the most complex exercises undertaken jointly by the two navies. Both sides engaged in advanced level anti-submarine warfare, weapon firings and Air Defense exercises. Shipborne helicopters, fighter aircraft and submarines also participated in the exercise. IN and JMSDF ships replenished each other at sea under the agreement on Reciprocal Provision for Supply and Services (RPSS).
Indian Naval ships led by Rear Adm Sanjay Bhalla, Flag Officer Commanding Eastern Fleet and Japan Maritime Self Defence Force (JMSDF) Ships Izumo and Takanami led by Rear Adm Hirata Toshiyuki, Commander Escort Flotilla Four, participated in the week-long exercise.
The relevance of such bilateral naval exercise is seen in the background of larger debate which is about reinventing Japan’s defence and security alignment. The focus remains on the maritime while Japan grapples with its larger roles and if the country wants to redefine its security perspectives.
The security environment has drastically changed that is about responding to the imminent threats with the rise of China as being the single most factor in building security roadmap for the Japanese armed forces better known as the Japanese Self-Defence Forces (JSDF). The Constitution of Japan bans war as a means of settling international disputes and outlaws the maintenance of a military. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wanted to amend Article 9 to explicitly allow the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) to exist. In reality, the Japanese military abstain from using offensive weapons like long-range ballistic missiles, bombers and aircraft carriers. Manpower is pretty limited. Where is it leading to?
Japan’s defence architecture
Japan lies at the forefront of a dynamic security landscape in the Indo-Pacific. Japan’s home islands make up the strategic first island chain. The Japanese coast guards face regular stand-off with Chinese counterparts in the East China Sea. The stand-off is frequent that is often mentioned in the Japanese media. If you just take a look at the Senkaku Islands of Japan, and the violations by the China Coast Guard vessels near the Islands, it reflects the coordinated actions and plans, building upon such escalation. As reported, in the recent past, Chinese Coast Guard vessels– a total of 1,161 vessels– remained near the Senkaku Islands, holding illegal activities. As it continues, on July 4, two Chinese coast guard vessels entered Japanese territorial waters close to the Senkaku Islands, which led to the possible confrontation. Japan’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, Yoshimasa Hayashi described the infiltration as a breach of international law.
The situation presents very clear picture surrounding the points of conflict with Japan.
Against the backdrop of China’s military capability, it is critical to enhance Japan’s deterrent— both independently and collectively—against China, in particular its use of force against disputed territories in the Indo-Pacific.
While China is at the centre of Japan’s security dimension, North Korea’s nuclear and missile program poses serious challenges. Japan finds itself in a security environment that is becoming less and less safe and the sense of vulnerabilities stem out on the perceived declining commitment of the U.S. in the region.
China’s rapid military modernization and capabilities are creating compelling situations for Japan to act upon its fallible security architecture.
As much evident is the fact that China’s defence budget grew from a mere $11.4 billion in 1989 to $250 billion in 2018, jumping from being only 40 percent of Japan’s defense budget to 536 percent. In 2017, President Xi Jinping projected that “by the mid-21st century,” the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) will “have been fully transformed into world-class forces” that “can fight and win”.
“Japan is divided on the Article 9 of the Constitution,” says Jagannath Panda, Director, Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies (YCAPS), Japan on the larger question which is about bringing reforms within the elements of the Constitution. The debate is still about ‘restricting its first strike capability’, points out Panda that hinders its roadmap for building capabilities. The critical components of Japan’s own effort to reinforce the alliance is to continue to modernize its defense capability to better meet the security challenges of today and the future.
The slow-paced reform began to flow when Japan released two key defense policy-planning documents in December 2018: the National Defence Program Guidelines (NDPG), a policy document that guides Japan’s defence policy for the next five years, and the Mid-Term Defense Program, an acquisition planning document that supports the NDPG.
In 2018 NDPG laid out “Multidomain Defense Force (tajigen tōgō bōei-ryoku)” as an organizing concept that Japan will strive towards. The concept took a major shift from the earlier plan based on Dynamic Joint Defence Force (dōteki bōei-ryoku) in 2013. While it took some time to formulate, it certainly addressed the threat in its bolder version outlined in its Multidomain Defense Force. So, what the concept- paper clearly talks about is building a credible long-range missile program, next generation aircraft carrier and submarines among others. Further, it also clearly puts forth the capability-roadmap, based on the multidomain perspective on space in defence.
While what Japan lacks in its defence plan as it is restricted on the political front, country has already embarked on security partnership and conducts many high-caliber military exercises with its partners and friends in the region and beyond. It now holds regular security consultations, 2+2 Ministerial Meetings, with the United States, Australia, Russia, France, Britain, Indonesia, and India.
On the security front, Japan is working closely with the militaries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) through the Japan-ASEAN defence cooperation framework, the Vientiane Vision. It led to the SDF’s deployment of Izumo-class destroyers to various ASEAN countries under the Japan-ASEAN Ship Rider Cooperation Program.
Within the security dimension, Japan emphasized on the freedom of navigation operations (FONOPs). This is important for the “Free and Open Indo-Pacific” (FOIP) which is about the open rules-based order and maintaining the sanctity of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
India- Japan military coordination
In the second India-Japan 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue held in Tokyo, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and Japanese counterpart Yasukazu Hamada agreed to step up bilateral defense cooperation and engage in more military exercises, including holding the first joint fighter jet drills. The fighter exercise will lead to greater cooperation and interoperability between the Air Forces of the two countries.
Japan and India also initiated the operationalization of the Reciprocal Provision of Supply and Services Agreement during Exercise MILAN’ in March this year. It finally upgrades the interoperability through such initiatives as the implementation of the Agreement Concerning Reciprocal Provision of Supplies and Services between the Self-Defense Forces of Japan and the Indian Armed Forces during bilateral training.
In addition to that multilateral exercise Malabar involving Japan, the US, India and Australia are being conducted for two years in a row. The Quad summit hosted by Japan in Tokyo last month launched a satellite-based maritime security initiative aimed to pursue a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The benefit of this maritime initiative will allow tracking of dark shipping and other tactical-level activities, such as rendezvous at sea, as well as improve partners’ ability to respond to climate and humanitarian events and to protect their fisheries, which are vital to many Indo-Pacific economies.
Missing defense industrial co-operation
While the security cooperation is certainly growing in the right direction, the missing link is the lack of cooperation in the military industrial cooperation. Japan is still mulling if the government could allow the exports of military equipment to other countries, including India.
The story began in 2014, when t the Abe government decided to lift the ban on exporting Japanese military equipment(non-lethal) to the world. Japan offered US 2 amphibious aircraft, manufactured by Japanese firm ShinMaywa, to India. While the discussion held between India and Japan for long, it did not go through as it was labelled too pricey at that time.
Japan had also entered into the Indian Navy’s Project 75 India, for the Indian Navy to build six conventional submarines with next generational Air Independent Propulsion System (AIP). AIP system is the most critical technological breakthrough for submarine which allows submarines to remain underwater for a much longer time; a much-needed requirement for the Indian Navy to remain stealthy underwater for the operation in the Indian Ocean region and beyond. However, Japan government decided to withdraw from the project 75I, sighting the challenges in addressing such concerns.
But the change is in the offing. Recently, Japan and India held the first India-Japan Defence Industry Dialogue, to talk about the cooperation and collaborating for military equipment. Building upon the legacies, Japan has gained significant expertise in building naval warships, submarines and fighter jet. This could lead to the possible collaboration with India especially in aerospace. Japan has already launched its next-generation F-3 or F-X stealth fighter jet program. The concept is based on the next-generation air superiority fighter which will replace its 97 F2 fighters(F16-based), along its aging F-15s.
India has initiated multiple fighter jet program which will have next generation capabilities like Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) project, Tejas Mk II project and Deck based Fighter (TEBDF) aircraft. Besides, IAF also is working on its long-pending flagship Multi-Role Fighter Aircraft (MRFA) acquisition plan. In fact, Japan is scouting for the credible international partner for its ambitious fighter jet program. As reported, Japan is collaborating with UK which is about merging its F-X program with the UK’s Tempest. It is important to note that it would be the first such international cooperation that Japan is heading towards apart from U.S. for a large military programme. India has also defined its air combat capability programme with similar scope and scale where both could be partners in design and development. This could also expand to the aeroengine technologies.
Another critical area is the naval cooperation with Japan on submarine which is also concurrent with the Japan’s planned expansion of its submarine fleet to 22 boats which are all based on diesel-electric submarines. India’s P 75I is progressing under the strategic partnership model which could be a potential area where combines skills and expertise could be a game-changer.
In the talk, the Indian Ambassador to Japan Sanjay Kumar Verma highlighted some of the key areas in the field if electromagnetic spectrum, space, cyberspace, underwater domain awareness, high energy lasers, cryptography, sensors, optic cables, robotics and artificial intelligence.
How much of such talks translate into the reality is remained to seen, knowing the tedious political process underway? But certainly, it is just a matter of time that such “future oriented defense partnership” will unfold, as Panda puts it across.