By Naohisa Hanzawa
The concept and posture of the Self-Defense Forces’ electronic warfare were revealed on March 17. Electronic warfare, which harnesses electromagnetic waves, is a strength of the SDF in the “new domains” of space, cyber, and electromagnetic waves, which are combined with the traditional domains of land, maritime, and air. The SDF’s electronic warfare units in particular can play a key role in staging a joint response with the U.S. in the event of contingencies involving China, as these units are located on the front lines and have capabilities superior to those of the U.S. military.
The missions of the electronic warfare units are (1) to deploy equipment that can handle a variety of frequencies to each unit, (2) to gather information on the frequencies used by other countries and accumulate data, and (3) to keep track of other countries’ movements in cooperation with other intelligence units, such as radar sites. In the event of a contingency, the SDF units can emit the same frequencies used by other countries or powerful electromagnetic waves to disrupt their communications and radars, thereby, disabling other countries from taking action. The units can also identify the source of enemies’ electromagnetic waves and attack them with missiles.
Russia was the first in the world to integrate electronic and cyber warfare in a military intervention. It has done this in Ukraine since 2014, and it has also deployed the latest electronic warfare equipment to the Northern Territories. China’s People’s Liberation Army Strategic Support Force, established in 2015, oversees electronic warfare as well as space and cyber warfare, and has deployed radio frequency jamming equipment to artificial islands in the South China Sea.
The U.S. lags behind. A senior U.S. Army officer who witnessed Russia’s operations in Ukraine lamented, “We can’t even do 10% of what the Russian army can do (in terms of electronic warfare).” The U.S. is urgently developing electronic warfare systems and equipment.
The Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) has been training personnel and developing equipment for electronic warfare since the 1950s, and this has culminated in the establishment of a unit in Kumamoto Prefecture that has the most advanced networked electronic warfare system. While Japan is lagging behind in the new domain of space, and lacking in cyber personnel even though it has the technology, the “GSDF’s electronic warfare units are vastly superior to those of the U.S. Army,” according to a senior official of the Defense Ministry.
The electromagnetic waves that will be targeted in electronic warfare in the event of a Chinese invasion of the remote islands in Japan’s southwestern region are mainly very high frequency (VHF) and super high frequency (SHF), which can transmit vast amount of information and are used for radars.
VHF and SHF have a range of only a few dozen kilometers. This is why the GSDF electronic warfare units, including those stationed at Amami and Yonaguni, are deployed at various sites. The SDF will be able to take the lead in this operation by taking advantage of this geographical advantage.