To deal with new threats appropriately, it is crucial to steadily improve the nation’s defense capability without being bound by conventional ideas.
The government plans to revise the National Defense Program Guidelines, which were adopted in 2013, next month. The defense plan, which is supposed to serve as a vision for a 10-year period, in principle, is set to be reviewed five years after it was drawn up. This is because the security environment has deteriorated beyond the government’s assumptions.
China has conducted a significant military buildup, such as by building its own aircraft carrier. North Korea, while it has refrained from conducting nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches, apparently continues to develop weapons.
Japan’s top priority task in its defense policy is to strengthen its missile defense.
The government plans to introduce Aegis Ashore, a ground-based missile interception system. It also intends to deploy radar with excellent detecting ability to the system. This is aimed at enhancing deterrence not only against North Korea but also China, which has a wide range of missiles.
The Aegis Ashore system is scheduled to be deployed in Yamaguchi and Akita prefectures, but it faces strong opposition there. The Defense Ministry must continue to make efforts to win public understanding by thoroughly explaining the significance of the deployment.
Focus on space, cyberspace
State-of-the-art equipment to be introduced from the United States, including F-35 stealth fighters, is expensive. There could be pressure from the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump, which aims to eliminate the U.S. trade deficit with Japan, but public understanding is hard to obtain if the basis for the prices of the equipment is unclear.
The government must try to enhance efficiency in procuring defense equipment by discerning cost-effectiveness. It is also urged to review the procurement of equipment that has become less necessary. It is hoped that the integrated operation of the three branches of the Self-Defense Forces — ground, maritime and air — will lead to reductions in procurement costs.
Meanwhile, there is a concern that it is hard to say the SDF capabilities in outer space and cyberspace are sufficient.
China and Russia as well as North Korea have rapidly improved attack capabilities in space and cyberspace. If Japan’s satellites and communications networks were to be destroyed, it would have a huge impact on national security.
It is vital for the Defense Ministry to step up efforts to reinforce the nation’s cyberdefense and promote the introduction of satellites for space surveillance in cooperation with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA). Close cooperation with the U.S. military is also essential.
The government has decided to introduce long-range cruise missiles to defend remote islands. The SDF will practically possess a certain level of capability of attacking enemy bases.
However, given that Japan and the United States have divided roles, Japan should maintain its role of complementing the U.S. military in the event of striking an enemy base. Careful consideration would be needed over a stipulation of such a capability in the National Defense Program Guidelines, which the Liberal Democratic Party has called for.
Accidents due to errors by SDF members have occurred one after another. Discussions must be deepened also on measures to prevent similar incidents by examining how SDF training should be.