The following is the interview with Tomohisa Takei, former chief of staff, Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.
Q: How has Japan-U.S. cooperation changed since the Cold War era?
Takei: After the Cold War, the U.S. Navy laid out in 1998 the “network-centered warfare” concept, which is designed to instantly convey and share information via an advanced information network, and has improved its combat capability drastically. This allowed commanders at remote locations to share situational awareness and work out tactics via email and chat services each other. On the other hand, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces did not have such a tool back then.
In 2004, the Maritime Self-Defense Force introduced the “CENTRIXS” telecommunication system, which allows for real-time information sharing. The move became of great significance to Japan. The system helped improve the sharing of tactical images and communication and to enhance mutual operational capabilities between Japan and the U.S.
Q: Japan will introduce new defense equipment and systems, such as Aegis Ashore batteries.
Takei: If Japan introduces the SM-6 next-generation missile interceptor system in addition to Aegis ships and the Aegis Ashore, Japan will be able to build the U.S. military’s “NIFC-CA,” which connects E-2D early warning aircraft to the latest network, and strengthen its air defenses against ballistic and cruise missiles. This will help Japan and the U.S. build more robust joint defense systems.
Q: Doesn’t this lead to touch on the issue of defense-oriented policy and collective self-defense?
Takei: The government’s interpretation is that the sharing and exchange of tactical data between Japan and the U.S. does not constitute the exercise of collective self-defense as long as the target does not come under direct attack. Today, the success of a mission depends on the quality and quantity of intelligence. We may have to re-define how far Japan can share intelligence with the U.S. forces to defend Japan. If information sharing is restricted, it will become difficult to make our joint operations stronger.
Japan and the U.S. can act in concert, indeed. But that’s not a problem per se. What’s important here is how politics should assess it for implementation. If politics can set a clear direction, the SDF will not be allowed to engage in joint operations with the U.S. even though they are capable of doing so. When needed, SDF commanding officers would ask for a political decision. The SDF will not carry out joint operations without a political decision.