January 4, 2008
Japan Rising: A Perception of Growing Threats is Driving a Slow but Steady ISR Expansion
By Wendell Minnick
Japan places more emphasis on issues such as natural disasters than high-level capabilities in respect to national security, sources in Japan say. However, with North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile programs and China’s growing military prowess, Japan is taking ISR more seriously with enhanced airborne intelligence collection, early warning capabilities, and land- and sea-based ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems.
Japan has also enhanced military intelligence-collection capabilities with the centralization of intelligence analysis and collection under the Defense Intelligence Headquarters created in 1997. Despite the effort, problems lie ahead, sources say. With a tight budget, making changes collectively all in one go will be more than difficult.
Peter Woolley, author of “Geography and Japan’s Strategic Choices,” said he believes many of Japan’s current ISR capabilities “are being supplemented or taken over by early warning satellite systems and image intelligence.”
Japan has had mixed success with its satellite reconnaissance program as it attempts to fill the gaps in its surveillance of North Korean missile and nuclear weapons programs. Its No. 1 radar satellite, launched in March 2003 as part of a $1.66 billion program to deploy two optical and two radar satellites, malfunctioned March 25. Japan launched its most recent satellite in February 2007. With a resolution of 1 meter, the optical satellites are considered below par in comparison to U.S. capabilities. Future launches include an optical satellite scheduled in 2009 and another radar satellite in 2011.
“The Japanese plan is to continue development of an independent intelligence-gathering satellite capability, building on their experience with the first-generation constellation,” said Lance Gatling, a defense consultant with Tokyo-based Gatling Associates. “When the Diet passes a new Space Basic Law, probably next year, I believe you’ll see a renewed thrust to develop an advanced capability, and perhaps quickly see the Ministry of Defense assume more direct responsibility for space-based ISR assets development, production, operation and analysis.”
According to Woolley, Japan has six “field sites” for signals intelligence and imagery collection and analysis.
“The land-based radar for ballistic missile defense or X-band radar system is found at Shariki, just a little north of Misawa Air Base, where the U.S. Navy keeps P-3Cs,” he said. “What’s most impressive to me is that the Ministry of Defense is changing organizationally to make the most of deploying those technologies and the information they generate.”
“While the U.S. fielded an X-band radar at Shariki Air Base in northern Honshu, Japan, is developing the indigenous FPS-5 radar to supplement that U.S. capability and that of its Aegis destroyers’ radars,” Gatling said. “During the Cold War, there was a modest but significant Japanese SigInt capability, which worked in conjunction with a larger U.S. capability.”
Recent times have seen the Japanese construct modern facilities apparently focused on SigInt from North Korea and Chinese emitters, since they’re shifted to western Japan. The largest Japanese military program in history was the initial national-level Base Air Ground Defense Environment.
This system placed Japan Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) air sector surveillance radars all over mountaintops, literally from the northernmost tip of Hokkaido to the southern end of Okinawa, largely focused on the Soviet threat. The updated system, known as the Japan Aerospace Defense Ground Environment, will be the C2 system for Japan’s ballistic missile defense system.
Japan has a long history of involvement in BMD programs that predate recent North Korean nuclear saber-rattling. Involvement began in 1986, when Japan agreed to participate in the U.S. “Star Wars” Strategic Defense Initiative under the Reagan administration.
North Korea’s launch of Nodong-1 missiles in May 1990 and 1993 further encouraged Japan to upgrade ISR and BMD capabilities. In 1993, the U.S. and Japan created the Theater Missile Defense Working Group under the Security Consultative Committee.
Once again, North Korea became a catalyst for change when in 1998, Pyongyang test-launched a long-range Taepodong ballistic missile. Further missile launches and a nuclear test in recent years have only galvanized Japanese determination to expand BMD and ISR capabilities.
In December 2003, Japan announced plans to acquire anti-missile SM-3 Block 1 ship-based missiles for upper-tier sea-based Navy Theater Wide Defense, also known as the Sea-Based Midcourse System, and a lower-tier terminal-phase defense consisting of Patriot PAC-3 air defense missiles.
On Oct. 12, the Japanese Ministry of Defense announced the arrival of the Joint Tactical Ground Station at Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture. This is the first deployment in Japan of a mobile missile-tracking system designed to receive launch data from early warning satellites.
The U.S. and Japan have also been increasing joint missile-defense drills. A BMD exercise was conducted in July and, at press time, there were plans for further exercises in November. A test launch of an SM-3 from a Kongo-class destroyer was scheduled in December off Hawaii. Japan deployed its first batteries of Patriot PAC-3 missiles this year, and the Navy will deploy SM-3 missiles on its destroyers over the next three years.
REPLACING THE ORION
Japan is putting the finishing touches on a new maritime patrol aircraft, dubbed the XP-1 (formerly the P-X), that will begin to replace Japan’s inventory of P-3 Orions in the next few years. Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) operates about 90 P-3s and five EP-3s. The latter aircraft, specialized for SigInt missions, were procured in 1992 for $95.5 million and are based at Iwakuni Air Base.
Japan has the world’s second largest fleet of P-3s, largely licensed-produced P-3Cs, and even after a series of retirements after the Cold War, the MSDF fleet is unique and virtually unmatched anywhere in the world.
“The standard equipment is quite complete for maritime surveillance, and the aircraft with the newer Raytheon AN/APS-137 have great land-surveillance capabilities, as well as maritime capabilities,” Gatling said.
“Given Japan’s geography as a long archipelago and proximity to the Asian continent, this aircraft performs a vital role for Japan’s maritime patrol and surveillance. In the aftermath of the Cold War, and the dramatic reduction in Russian submarine activity, it has been interesting to see how flexibly the Japanese have adopted the P-3.
“Of course, these aircraft operate in close cooperation with U.S. Navy assets; their two maritime patrol aviation communities embody what is generally held to be one of the closest U.S.-Japan operational partnerships, coordinated through a joint operations center. Their operational coordination is perhaps the standard for U.S.-Japan bilateral military activity.”
Japan’s P-3s appear to be free of the aging aircraft issues that dog the U.S. Navy fleet, according to Gatling.
“Their annual hours of operation are relatively low, and the aircraft are impeccably maintained,” he said. “Someone once described one to me as ‘like new’ despite being years old. The Japanese are very conservative regarding maintenance and could probably operate these aircraft for a long time to come without major problem.
“However, just like the U.S. Navy and other navies, they’re looking forward to the next generation of maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), as capabilities have evolved so much over the past decades from when these aircraft and much of the equipment was first built.
“Also, the Cold War scenarios in which the MSDF operated to shadow Soviet subs through Japan’s restricted straits and in other areas have changed dramatically, with concern shifting to other areas.”
The XP-1 program has also been criticized for being too expensive when cheaper options are available, including the upcoming 737-based P-8A Poseidon Multi-Mission Maritime Aircraft (MMA).
The Ministry of Defense’s Technical Research and Development Institute unveiled the XP-1 prototype in June. It is a four-engine jet, powered by Ishikawajima-Harima XF-7-10 turbofan engines in underwing nacelles. Problems with under-strength imported rivets incurred some delays, but the XP-1 flew for the first time Sept. 28.
Japan’s 2008 defense budget funded the first of four ordered XP-1 aircraft. Kawasaki Heavy Industries has the contract, and production is expected to begin in 2008 with about 70 aircraft expected to be built by 2020.
Kawasaki is also working on the C-X aircraft program, with plans to build 60 to replace older Air Force Kawasaki C-1 transports. The joint program costs for the C-X and XP-1 are estimated at $2.9 billion. It is unknown whether plans exist for modifying the C-X into an EC-X platform.
“A modern MPA is a very complex system, perhaps the most complex Japan has undertaken; it has a large complement of sensors and has to work in cooperation with friendly aerial, maritime and other assets, many over the horizon or linked through a complex C4ISR system,” Gatling said.
“So, it will be interesting to see how the P-X performs when fielded, and which systems will have to be tweaked or replaced. Operational interoperability with the U.S. Navy P-8A MMA and existing P-3Cs was a high priority.”
Japan’s ASDF has 27 RF-4E and RF-4EJ “Kai” reconnaissance aircraft assigned to the Tactical Reconnaissance Group’s 501st Squadron at Hyakuri Air Base.
Japan began purchasing F-4 Phantoms from the U.S. in 1968, and later Mitsubishi built 138 fighters under license. Japan procured 14 RF-4Es from the U.S. equipped with camera noses and later converted 17 Mitsubishi-built F-4 Kai fighters into RF-4EJs with long-range oblique photography pods.
In June, Lockheed Martin won the contract to outfit several of Japan’s 223 Mitsubishi-built F-15J Eagles with the Phoenix Eye synthetic aperture radar (SAR) pods based on the AN/APY-12 SAR system. Deliveries of the system are slated to begin in 2008; the upgraded Eagles will be known as RF-15Js and replace older RF-4Es.
A perceived need to protect sea lanes of communications within 1,000 miles of the Japanese coast has led to a significant investment in anti-submarine warfare (ASW). Of principal concern is China, whose expanding submarine fleet is becoming bolder in its forays outside Chinese territorial waters.
Helicopters are a key aspect of Japan’s ASW capability, with nearly 100 Sikorsky SH-60J and K Seahawks in service. Japan also operates 13 Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeyes in the airborne early warning and control effort. The first eight E-2s were procured in the early 1980s, and the remaining five were acquired in the early 1990s.
Japan bought four airborne warning and control system-equipped Boeing 767s for $2 billion in 2000. In May 2006, the ASDF moved to upgrade the communications and radar equipment aboard these aircraft. Japan still operates about eight Nippon Airplane Manufacturing YS-11E twin turboprops in the SigInt/electronic warfare role. Reportedly, these aircraft monitor Russian, Chinese and North Korean bases, warships and aircraft.
One additional ISR aircraft, a Kawasaki EC-1, operates with the YS-11s at Iruma. Sources say this aircraft has the J/ARL-1 SigInt system and ALQ-5 ECM gear, as well.