On Jan. 23, Japan Air Self-Defense Force Chief of Staff Gen. Yoshinari Marumo (59) was in Yokohama to inspect the “Izumo” destroyer, which was moored at Japan Marine United Corporation’s Isogo Works for maintenance. The National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) stated that the Izumo will be retrofitted to enable F-35B advanced stealth fighter jets to land and take off there. At Isogo Works, a company official in charge of the Maritime Self-Defense Force explained the architecture of the Izumo while Marumo listened intently.
On Dec. 19, 2018, the day after the Cabinet approved the NDPG, Minister of Defense Takeshi Iwaya (61) also inspected the Izumo at MSDF’s Yokosuka base (Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture). He told crew members there: “We will reinforce our air defense posture, including along the Pacific Ocean. After the retrofitting, you will be assigned to various tasks.”
The MSDF has long envisaged possessing de facto “aircraft carriers.” This dream is about to take shape due to changes in the security climate surrounding Japan.
On April 20, 2018, it was confirmed for the first time that China had deployed several fighter jets taking off from the “Liaoning,” China’s first domestically-manufactured aircraft carrier, in waters south of Yonaguni Island in Okinawa Prefecture. There are not many SDF bases and radars deployed along the Pacific side of Japan. This incident made the SDF brass as well as the Ministry of Defense more aware of the need for bases and radars.
On Dec. 26, 2018, Russia succeeded in test launching the “Avangard” hypersonic missile, which is capable of flying 20 times faster than the speed of sound. After the test, Russian President Vladimir Putin commented: “Our hypothetical enemy’s missile defense platform cannot counter this technology.”
If countries compete with each other to build up their defense capabilities, Japan’s ballistic missile defense platform may become ineffective. Katsutoshi Kawano (64), chief of staff at the SDF joint staff, stressed the “need to constantly upgrade Japan’s missile defense platform.”
Meanwhile in Japan, a project is underway to develop “hypersonic” technology at the Advanced Defense Technology Center of the Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA), in Tachikawa, Tokyo. In 2018, the institute verified technology that can travel faster than Mach 5 in a collaborative project with the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The U.S. forces act as a spear and the SDF as a shield. The two countries’ roles in the Japan-U.S. alliance have long been divided like this. The NDPG stipulates that “to enhance the Japan-U.S. alliance further, it will be indispensable for Japan and the U.S. to strengthen their own defense capabilities.” On Jan. 16, Iwaya was in the U.S. to give a briefing to Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan (56), who responded to the Japanese defense minister by saying: “We welcome Japan’s commitment to expanding its role.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (64) encouraged people close to him “not to hesitate to adopt bold steps” when crafting the NDPG. Some people point out that projects such as the conversion of the Izumo to an aircraft carrier and the development of hypersonic missile technology deviate from the concept of the conventional defense-oriented policy. Japan’s expansion of its defense capabilities reflects changes in this defense-oriented posture.