Japan To Seek More Subs, Fighters
Defense Policy Overhaul Includes Acquisition Reform
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — Japan’s new 10-year defense policy calls for more fighter jets and submarines, fewer tanks, and a wary eye on China, North Korea and Russia.
Released Dec. 17 by Japan’s Cabinet, the long-awaited policy revision also calls for procurement reforms and industrial-base goals.
“Japan will procure equipment more efficiently by improving its contract and procurement system” and will “set out mediumand/or long-term strategy to maintain and develop defense production capabilities,” the National Defense Policy Guidelines (NDPG) said.
Some industry officials hoped the guidelines would recommend an overhaul of the 1967 three principles of arms exports, but this appears to have been toned down in the final draft. The principles say Japan shall not export arms to countries that are Communist, under a U.N. arms exports embargo, or involved in international conflicts.
But a Tokyo-based U.S. defense industry source said any effort to reform Japan’s arms export and manufacturing policies would be “a welcome relief.” Japan’s defense industry has “been banging the drum for years” for reform, the source said. “One of the reasons costs are so high for the production of arms is that they can’t export anything.” He said Japan needs to rethink the ban on exporting defense items, particularly components in high demand in the U.S. defense market.
“Defense items U.S. manufacturers no longer produce are still in production in Japan,” he said. The guidelines say change is necessary in light of a “global shift in the balance of power” with the “rise of emerging powers and relative change in the U.S. influence.” Among the issues of growing concern are Chinese military modernization, North Korean nuclear weapon development, increases in Russian military activity, cyber warfare and terrorism.
In response, the guidelines recommend cutting “Cold War-style” equipment such as tanks, whose numbers would be cut by one-third to about 400. But the 16-boat sub fleet should be boosted to 22, and purchases increased of fighters, air defense systems, anti-ship missiles. Forces should be reshaped as well, emphasizing rapid-reaction forces, particularly maritime and amphibious units, and improvements made to over-the-shore logistics and joint operations.
In part, the NDPG reflects a reorientation of military strategy and forces from Hokkaido Island in the north to the outer islands in the south, particularly in defense of Okinawa and the Senkakus.
The guidelines say Japan’s policymakers and military will shift their focus to “gray zones,” defined as confrontations over territory, sovereignty and economic interests.
The guidelines repeatedly emphasizes the threat of an “attack on Japan’s offshore islands,” a reference to recent disputes with China over the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.
Japan is officially recognizing that China will continue to make claims on the Senkakus and that “strong emotions of Chinese nationalism are fed by those claims,” said Peter Woolley, a Japan defense specialist and author of book, “Geography and Japan’s Strategic Choices.” The Chinese refer to the chain as the Diaoyutai Islands, and there has been a steady increase in Chinese naval activity in the area over the past five years.
In September, a Chinese fishing vessel collided with a Japanese Coast Guard ship near the islands. Beijing protested the arrest of the crew and stepped up rhetoric over its territorial claims.
Though the NDPG reflects continuity, there are number of changes that reveal a new consensus that is crucial to successful defense policy development, Woolley said.