By Liu Shigang and Xue Jun
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s National Security Council (NSC) and Cabinet approved the new 2019 National Defense Program Guidelines (hereinafter referred to as the New Guidelines), along with the fiscal 2019-2023 Mid-Term Defense Program (hereinafter referred to as the New Program) on December 18, kicking off a new round of military strategic adjustment and armament development.
Compared to previous documents, the development and utilization plan of the Japanese defense force, as reflected in the New Guidelines and the New Program has become more extroverted and offensive, making some breakthroughs.
The two new plans are far from the pacifist development route stipulated by the Peace Constitution. They have gone far beyond the bottom line of the exclusively defense-oriented policy undertaken by successive Japanese governments since World War II. We should pay close attention and stay vigilant.
First, the New Guidelines emphasizes the complex and variable forms of war in the future. When describing the security environment facing Japan, it emphasizes that the change in the international power structure is accelerating, and competition among countries in the political, economic and military fields has become increasingly fierce. It also focuses on the transition from war to “mixed war”, especially the “gray area” situation between war and non-war, which it sees as even more difficult to deal with.
The New Guidelines stresses that military technological innovation and hi-tech weapons research and development are changing the “rules of war”, making the future combat style more difficult to predict. It also continues to, as always, hype up the so-called “China threat”, saying, “China’s promotion of military modernization and military activities has increased the uncertainty of regional security.”
Second, defense spending will increase sharply in the next five years. Abe has increased funds for the Japanese Self-Defense Force (JSDF) for five consecutive years since he took office. As a result, the defense budget saw a five-year increase, with an average annual growth rate of about 1.2 percent.
In the context of the relatively tight financial situation the Japanese government has been confronting in recent years, Abe has been rather generous to the JSDF, looking at it with quite different eyes.
Moreover, the New Program will invest about 27.47 trillion yen in the next five years to increase the comprehensive combat effectiveness of the JSDF. This is an increase of around 11.3 percent from the 24.67 trillion yen in the last National Defense Program Guidelines introduced at the end of 2013.
According to this scale, the average annual growth rate of the Japanese defense budget will exceed 2 percent in the next five years. Its defense budget will account for over 1 percent of its GDP, while 1 percent has been the policy bottom line of previous Japanese governments since the 1980s.
Third, the new strategy is closely related to the concept of “cross-domain joint operations”. According to the New Guidelines, the JSDF will develop cross-domain joint operations capability.
The so-called “cross-domain” mainly adds space, network and electromagnetic space operations beyond the traditional land, sea and air combat space. According to the new concept, the JSDF will emphasize seamless combat readiness and full-domain and multi-field joint operations. It also calls for cross-service and cross-domain cooperation in implementation. The new strategy highlights the importance and urgency of combat in new areas.
Fourth, the future development of weapons and equipment will be high-end, intelligent, network-based and offensive. New equipment and technology will be more advanced and subversive.
For example, Japan will purchase joint standoff missiles for the F-35A joint attack aircraft being deployed in 2019. This will allow Japan to have air-to-ship and air-to-ground fire strike capability with a range of more than 500 km for the first time. The JSDF will also upgrade the F-15 fighter jet so it can have the capability to launch the missile. The precision-guided, multi-mission joint standoff missile is co-developed by the US and Norway. It is expected to be in combat power form in about 2021. The missile will pose a serious threat to military installations and surface ships of Japan’s neighboring countries.
Japan may also acquire hypersonic cruise missile technology and develop long-range cruise missiles from the purchased missiles. In addition, Japan is also stepping up its implementation of intelligent technology in the military field. It plans to introduce an intelligent business management system for the Japanese Defense Ministry. It will develop an integrated mission system for new fighters, high-speed gliders for island operations, a general network fire control system for destroyers and advanced weapons and equipment such as unmanned submersibles able to replace functional modules according to mission requirements.
Fifth, Japan is set to develop light aircraft carriers and carrier-based aircraft to further enhance its air defense and anti-missile combat capabilities. According to the New Program, the JSDF will transform two existing Izumo-class helicopter destroyers with a standard displacement of 19,500 tons into light aircraft carriers to carry the F-35B fighter aircraft introduced from the US. With this, Japan will break the policy restrictions of “no aircraft carrier” implemented by previous governments.
Japan will also lay the foundation for the next step in building and using larger aircraft carriers. The JSDF will gradually introduce the Standard Missile-3(SM-3) Block IIA and Standard Missile-3(SM-3) Block IB interceptor missiles produced in the US. The former will be placed on the improved Atago-class and the newly-built Aegis guided missile destroyers, while the latter will be applied to the newly introduced land-based Aegis anti-missile system. By then, the ballistic missile detection and interception capabilities of the JSDF will be greatly improved.
In general, the introduction of the New Guidelines and the New Program shows that Japan’s defense policy has once again undergone major adjustments. Japan has taken a further step toward its goal of becoming a military power and we cannot neglect the effect on the regional and international security situation.
Disclaimer: The authors are Liu Shigang and Xue Jun from the War Studies College of the Academy of Military Sciences of the Chinese PLA. The article was published on the PLA Daily on Dec. 28. It is translated from Chinese into English and edited by China Military online.