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The front line of Japan’s defense (Part 1): Unexperienced battle is approaching

While the Defense Ministry was putting together new National Defense Program Guidelines, a ministry’s official in charge of the guidelines explained them to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, 64. “I like their language,” said the prime minster. “They precisely express Japan’s situation.” The cabinet approved the new program at the end of 2018.


The prime minister gave high marks to the military term “active defense.” It is the concept that before enemies attack Japan with ballistic missiles or hackers wage cyberattacks against the country, Japan disables their capabilities. Japan will “carry out its responsibility by exerting efforts on its own accord and initiative,” so says the language at the beginning of the new guidelines, which also took into account the prime minister’s instructions.


The new guidelines define new domains – space, cyberspace and electromagnetic spectrum – as “essential.”


On Jan. 30 at the Ground Systems Research Center, technical officials of the thermal power system laboratory were standing around an experimental device 60cm in diameter and 2m in length. It was research for an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) missile.


If Japan can put EMP missiles to practical use, it will be able to degrade enemies’ weapons without direct combat using missiles and bullets. “With a built-in power supply device, we still need to miniaturize the device, making it 30cm in diameter and 1m in length,” said research and planning official Yuji Sato, 56. He is expediting the downsizing process.


Electronic warfare is becoming a reality. Russia waged “hybrid warfare” when it invaded Crimea by combining cyberattacks with electronic warfare using electromagnetic waves. Russia disrupted the Ukraine army’s command and control and blocked GPS satellite waves and drones.


In October 2018, members of the Self-Defense Forces were sitting in front of computer monitors on Maxwell Air Force Base in the U.S. state of Alabama. They participated in “Schriever Wargame,” a multilateral tabletop exercise organized by the U.S. Space Command. Japan belatedly participated in the exercise that the U.S., the UK and other countries started in 2001.


The exercise presented various hypothetical situations including the risk of space debris and anti-satellite weapons 10 years in the future. Participants adjusted and combined their plans to respond to such risks. Defense coordinating officer Hiroyuki Sugai of the Air Staff Office (ASDF colonel; 45 ) recalled the exercise, “We learned a lot from the exercise, including ways to monitor space and figure out response measures.”


China is increasing its presence in outer space. In 2007, while the U.S. had 36 reconnaissance satellites capable of gathering images and radio intelligence information, China had 5. Their relative numbers reversed in 2018 with China having 53 and the U.S. 45.


“We apparently started late for the space domain,” said Joint Staff Chief Katsutoshi Kawano, 64, the highest ranking uniformed officer of the SDF. “We must put more effort into the space domain.” He feels a sense of urgency for increasing space defense capabilities.


“If you notice anything unusual, report immediately,” a cyberdefense instructor of the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) Signal School in Yokosuka City, Kanagawa Prefecture, told about 30 GSDF members during a cyberdefense class on Jan. 29. “Master hackers use tools with a high-level stealth.”


The participants who came from all over Japan learn the most advanced cyberdefense and countermeasures against cyberattacks. C4 (command, control, communication and computer) systems planning division chief Takeshi Yoshioka (MSDF colonel; 50) of the Joint Staff said, “Even if we improve defense techniques, hackers also improve their cyberattack capabilities, which is a vicious circle.”


About 150 members of the cyberdefense unit at the Ministry of Defense in Tokyo’s Ichigaya district monitor and analyze networks on a 24-hour basis. “There is a suspicious mail,” said a member. “This should be isolated from a network,” said another. In a room with a large monitor that displays ongoing communications, the unit members in charge of monitoring and analyzing share information with each other.


“It is unbelievable that top secret information of the U.S. military was hacked.” One year ago, the Defense Ministry was shocked by the news. A U.S. Navy contractor was hacked and information on a supersonic anti-ship missile was leaked. It was suspected that a Chinese cyberattack unit with tens of thousands of hackers was involved in the attack.


Cyberattacks threaten the civilian sector, too. In July 2018, hackers attacked the largest medical group in Singapore and medical records for about 1.5 million patients were leaked, including information on Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, 66. North Korea repeatedly launches cyberattacks against electric power companies in the U.S. and South Korea.


“Is Japan’s infrastructure sufficiently protected?” U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) often asks its Japanese counterpart whether Japan takes sufficient cyberdefense measures to protect important infrastructure. Of especial concern are potential attacks against utilities and the water supply system. The Japanese government shares its measures to protect important infrastructure with the U.S. through meetings including USFJ members.


Can Japan put active defense into practice in the traditional domains of land, sea and air, as well as in the new domains [space, cyberspace and electromagnetic spectrum] and respond to clear and present danger? Joint efforts of the government and the private sector are essential.


In light of the growing severity of the security environment, the government revised the National Defense Program Guidelines. This series will look at developments in the area of defense at present. 

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