Analysis: Is new NDPG easing constitutional limits on Japan's military?

China Military Online
Yao Jianing
2019-01-04 16:38:15
By Zhuang Junlang

The Cabinet of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe approved the new National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) and the Mid-Term Defense Program (MTDP) on December 18.

The revision includes turning existing ships into aircraft carriers, developing “multi-dimensional integrated defense forces” including space and cyber forces, and further strengthening the US-Japan alliance. This is another revision of the National Defense Program Guidelines by the Abe government since 2013.

Japan’s move in the defense field has caused concerns and worries among neighboring countries. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying urged Japan to keep its commitment to the “exclusively defense-oriented” strategy, stay committed to the path of peaceful development and act cautiously in the area of military security at a regular press conference on December 18.

Noh Kyu-duk, the Republic of Korea’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson, also said at a press briefing that Japan should abide by the spirit of its pacifist Constitution and dedicate itself to regional peace and stability, according to reports from the Japan Times.

The worries of China and the Republic of Korea have hit the nail on the head. The introduction of the new version of the National Defense Program Guidelines shows that the Japanese government is gradually renouncing its pacifist Constitution and its “exclusively defense-oriented” commitment. Both the transformation from “destroyer” to “aircraft carrier” and the new high military budget show Abe’s ambition to loosen constitutional restrictions on military.

The “de-facto” aircraft carrier

The full text of the new National Defense Program Guidelines issued by Japan has more than 23,000 words and none of them mentioned the word “aircraft carrier.” (or くうぼ in Japanese).

However, one paragraph in the middle of the outline reveals that such goal exists, as these 198 words refer to the “flexible use” of fighter jets which are capable of short and vertical take-offs, and corresponding measures to make these fighter jets be able to operate from existing ships. Such definition really sounds like that of an aircraft carrier.

Professor Zhou Yongsheng of the Institute of International Relations at China Foreign Affairs University said: “Japan called it (the converted ship) a multi-purpose frigate. In fact, it is essentially a multi-purpose aircraft carrier.”

“By transforming a frigate into an attack aircraft carrier, Japan actually has the capability to use force overseas,” said Lv Yaodong, director of the Institute of Japanese Studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences.

Kyodo News, a news agency in Japan, reported that the conversion of the Izumo helicopter destroyer and the separation from the “exclusively defense-oriented” strategy are suspected of being unconstitutional and will be severely questioned.

This so-called “multi-purpose destroyer” capable of carrying the F-35B will be a far cry from the “helicopter destroyer” in terms of performance. “The helicopter destroyer has no capability to attack the surface fleet as it mainly searches and attacks the submarine,” Zhou said. “Once it is converted into a carrier for fixed-wing aircraft and that the F35-B is on board, it will have a powerful attack capability against surface ships and land forces.”

Zhou believes that once the transformation is successful, the two de-facto aircraft carriers will pose greater challenges to China’s maritime forces. “The F-35B is a fifth-generation fighter jet while the J-15 is the fourth-generation,” Zhou said, “The F-35B has advantages in stealth capability, supersonic cruise capability, and perception.”

Space warfare, electronic warfare and “multi-dimensional integrated defense forces”

In addition to the transformation into aircraft carriers of the Izumo and the Kaga, the National Defense Program Guidelines also proposed a new concept worthy of attention. This time, it proposed the “multi-dimensional integrated defense forces”. Compared with the “integrated defense force” of the previous defense outlines, the new concept has an emphasis on the word “multi-dimensional.”

“Integrated mobile defense refers to the integration of traditional sea, land and air capabilities, and the multi-dimensional aspect further involves both space and cyber,” said Lv.

“Japan has an excuse, namely the recycling of space garbage, making it seems like Japan tries to maintain public space,” said Lv. “But in fact, this so-called orbital debris removal requires the capability to shoot down space junk with giant lasers,” Lv added.

Zhou believes that Japan’s development of space power is actually an imitation of the US, Russia and other countries. In June 2018, The US President Donald Trump asked the US Department of Defense to form the US Space force immediately and said that the US will not only establish a presence, but also a dominant position. Previously, the Russian space force reorganized into an air defense defensive force in 2011. Russia established the Russian Aerospace Forces in 2015.

The National Defense Program Guidelines also mentioned the importance of “electronic warfare” and Japan plans to expand the Cyber Defense Unit (CDU) by increasing its numbers from an estimated 110 to 1000 soldiers tasked with the nation’s cyber defense.

“Compared with the US, Russia, and China, Japan’s cyber warfare level is relatively weak. As a result, Japan is following the US to establish a small-scale cyber warfare force,” said Zhou.

In addition to expanding into space warfare, electronic warfare and other fields, the “multiple-dimensional integrated defense force” also emphasizes the horizontal “cross-domain defense system.” “The so-called ‘cross-domain defense system’ is to deploy the Japanese troops to the Indian Ocean in order to be in line with his Indo-Pacific Strategy,” said Zhou.

Is a stronger US-Japan alliance aimed at loosening constitutional restrictions on Japan's military?

According to the Mid-Term Defense Program, Japan’s military budget for the next five years will reach 27.47 trillion yen (about 1.68 trillion yuan). Its defense budget has been increasing since the second Abe administration in 2012.

Japan’s Sankei Shimbun reported that this figure set a new high in the history of the Japanese military budget, and the reason for the rise in the overall amount is to purchase expensive US equipment.

Lv believes that the transformation of the Izumo, the revision of the National Defense Program Guidelines and the various initiatives by Abe in recent years show that Japan is no longer a country that sticks to “exclusively defense-oriented policy”.

The Japanese National Diet passed the “new security bills” in 2015 and amended 10 laws including the Self-Defense Forces Act. The core of the new security bills is the lifting of the so-called “the right of collective self-defense”.

“In the past, the US was responsible to protect Japan’s security. Now, Japan wants to exercise the rights to collective self-defense for its allies,” said Lv.

“The introduction of the National Defense Program Guidelines and the transformation of the Izumo have shown that the so-called ‘defeated Japan’ has already gone,” said Lv.

Some people believe that the US, as the creator of Japan’s pacifist Constitution, will not allow Japan to lift military restrictions or revise the pacifist Constitution. However, Zhou believes that such opinion is a misunderstanding.

Zhou pointed out that the US then Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage publicly denounced the pacifist Constitution as “a barrier to the US-Japan alliance” as early as 2004.

The stability of the US-Japan relationship is also reflected in the National Defense Program Guidelines. One third of the section on the “Basic Policy on National Defense” is about “the strengthening of Japan-US relations.”

In addition, the National Defense Program Guidelines follows the concept of “Indo-Pacific” concept newly emphasized by the US. The National Defense Program Guidelines emphasizes close ties with India, Australia, and Southeast Asian countries through the “2+2” talks (foreign and defense ministers’ talks).

Lv believes that the US needs allies to defend its interests in the Asia-Pacific region with its influence relatively declined. “This is the reason why the US has been emphasizing that the Japan-US alliance is the cornerstone of peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region in recent years,” said Lv.

Disclaimer: The author is Zhuang Junlang. The article is published on It is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the views of does not assume any responsibility or liability for the same. If the article carries photographs or images, we do not vouch for their authenticity.


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