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Soldiers of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force maintain security posture prior to a JGSDF MIM-23 Improved Hawk live-fire training exercise conducted at Camp McGregor Operational Readiness Training Complex, Fort Bliss Oct. 20. (Source: NARA)
Earlier this week, former head of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, Retired Adm. Katsutoshi Kawano, voiced his opinion that Japan’s most significant challenge as it initiates a never-before-seen military modernization program and doubles its defense spending is the operational aptitude of its air and naval and ground forces.
He pointed out that Japan is “lacking in maintenance capabilities,” as well as fuel and ammunition stockpiles necessary for a prolonged conflict when responding to inquiries from USNI. He added that their internal supply had been affected since Japan provided support and arms to Ukraine.
However, Kawano approved Japan’s decision to raise defense spending to 2 percent of its gross domestic product. This will provide more resources for its coast guard, intelligence collaboration with allies, and replenish war stocks. He noted, however, that investment in tanks, submarines, and aircraft had used up much of the defense budget, leaving insufficient funds for ammunition and fuel.
The Japanese military defense has seen several changes in the past decade, both successes and failures. Firstly, Japan has developed new high-tech weapons systems that have increased its ability to defend itself against potential enemies. These include fighter jets and various missile technologies. In addition, they have invested heavily in training their troops, introducing new training programs, and enhancing existing ones.
Apart from the improvements made to its weapons systems and training methods, Japan has also increased its presence on the international stage. This includes participating in UN peacekeeping missions and forming alliances with other countries, such as the United States and South Korea.
“Long-range missiles alone will not be sufficient,” Kawano said.
As accurate data on targeting and damage assessment from various sources is essential for Japan, the nation’s Prime Minister remarked that revamping the JSDF’s control system and headquarters would make it easier to collaborate with US Indo-Pacific Command during urgent times. Therefore, the new joint command of Japan is projected to become active in 2024.
At a Stimson Center forum held Thursday, Yasuyo Sakata, professor at Kanda University of International Studies, pointed out that the restructuring of Japan’s military system facilitates closer collaboration between the navy and coast guard when handling the People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia of China, who are active in contested waters.
To improve their military defense, the Japanese have several options available to them. First, their military should invest in modern machines and technology designed for modern warfare. These include unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), unmanned ground vehicles (UGVs), and cyber security systems. Such technologies would give the Japanese a greater advantage over potential enemies and enhance their ability to protect their borders and citizens.
The Japanese military should also consider investing in artificial intelligence, which can be used in conjunction with traditional forms of warfare. AI has become increasingly important in modern warfare. A practical AI system can allow the Japanese forces to stay one step ahead of their enemies when predicting their moves and devising countermeasures accordingly.
The Japanese government is considering acquiring Tomahawk cruise missiles to provide a swift counter-strike capability instead of developing intermediate-range missiles. However, as Japan has yet to gain experience using these weapons, Madaka Fukuda from Hosei University mentioned at the Stimson forum that the JSDF would require many drills and hands-on experience to become familiar with their operation.
Meanwhile, Kawano said that 2024 to 2027 is a particularly “risky window of crisis” for Taiwan’s autonomy as a democracy. He noted Beijing’s suppression of opposition in Hong Kong and its increased pressure on the Senkaku Islands close to Taiwan. He stated that these missiles could offer another layer of protection. It is their first time enabling the Japanese Self-Defense Forces to “strike enemy territory.”
The Japanese military could benefit from bolstering existing alliances and striking new ones with other countries. This would allow them access to advanced weapons systems that they might not be able to produce themselves. Additionally, by forming more ties with other nations, they could gain intelligence on potential regional threats and strategies to respond to them.
At a meeting between President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida of Japan, an aim was to reinstate more secure connections between the two nations. This came after the cessation of the exchange of intelligence information during a disagreement about commerce, which originated from Japan’s colonization of the Korean Peninsula in the early 1900s.
Additionally, Kawano said that US President Joe Biden’s stance on how the US would react to a Chinese military attack on Taiwan clarified any potential “misunderstandings” before. He further stated that Japan might act as a logistical base for American operations and could become more involved in the conflict if the circumstances changed. Although the waters surrounding Taiwan do not require Japan’s anti-submarine warfare (ASW) expertise, Kawano suggested that Japan “can contribute to the defense of Guam with ASW capabilities.”
“Close cooperation with the United States is essential,” he said multiple times during the 90-minute forum. In light of Russia’s threat to use nuclear missiles in Ukraine, “Japan has to re-think its nuclear policy to deter,” Kawano said. This could include stationing US nuclear weapons in Japan. However, he added that any change in stationing remains “a high barrier” politically. In addition, Kawano said Tokyo would retain veto power over Japanese-based nuclear weapon use.
The decision by Japan to deploy counter-strike missiles has caused a stir, however, according to Kawano. Because of this, their military faces a “grave problem of recruiting” that can affect their capacity to handle an emergency. He pointed out the recruiting challenge to be two-fold: the pool of possible recruits and officers has been shrinking, and there needs to be more enthusiasm for service.
Currently, the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) comprises around 250,000 volunteers. The number of individuals between 18 and 26, who are the primary recruitment source, has declined from 17 million in 1994 to 10.5 million. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force is short of its authorized end strength of 45,307 by approximately 2,000.
“Japan is an island,” and as “a maritime country, it should invest in naval and air capability,” Kawano said. He said Japan’s security concentration is on the East China Sea, including the Korean Peninsula and mainland China.
“The current security environment is becoming ever more challenging” since Tokyo is now facing potentially three nuclear-armed adversaries: China, North Korea, and Russia, he said. North Korea performed another intercontinental missile test shortly before Kawano spoke, and South Korea’s president met with Japan’s prime minister for a summit. The missile firing occurred as the US and South Korea concluded the most significant military exercise in five years.
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