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Inside Japan’s New Defense Plan

 JDS Myoko (DDG 175) pulls out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to support Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2012. US Navy Photo

JDS Myoko (DDG 175) pulls out of Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to support Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) 2012. US Navy Photo

This week Japan approved its latest five-year defense plan. The Mid Term Defense Plan (MTDP) defines Japan’s defense policy and capabilities for 2014 to 2018. The MTDP is meant to give policymakers, politicians, and the public an understanding of Japan’s defense priorities and the direction national defense is taking.

The latest MTDP takes into account the new National Defense Program Guidelines, a policy document set to take effect in 2014. Citing the regional security environment as “more tense,” NDPG recommends strengthening Japan’s capabilities in the areas of intelligence-surveillance-reconnaissance (ISR), its ability to respond to attacks on Japan’s remote southern islands, ballistic-missile defense, cyber warfare, natural disasters, and the country’s joint operations capabilities.

The MTDP has been heavily influenced by recent friction with China. Since 2010 relations with the People’s Republic of China have fallen sharply, mainly over China’s claim of the Japanese-held Senkaku islands (Diaoyu islands in China.) Japan’s plan also addresses concerns regarding North Korea’s ballistic missile program.

The report emphasizes the U.S.–Japan security alliance as one of the cornerstones of its defense policy. In addition to that alliance, Japan also will seek friendly cooperation on regional defense issues with Russia, India, Australia, South Korea, and the ASEAN states.

More broadly, cooperation with the international community on issues of arms control, disarmament, and nonproliferation will mean a strengthening of ties with the European Union, NATO, OSCE, and other European countries. Japan also will continue to contribute to international peacekeeping missions, such as those in South Sudan and Golan Heights.

Despite the deteriorating relations, the plan emphasizes the importance of continuing to engage China both with security dialogues and exchanges.

Japan’s defense spending has remained relatively flat since 1992, and has declined slightly every year from 2002 to 2012. The defense budget is set to rise five percent over the next five years, to a total of $247 billion dollars. Coinciding with the spending will be a reorganization and redeployment of the Self Defense Forces that will shift units from across Japan to the southern periphery, including the Ryukyu islands and disputed Senkaku islands.

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Oyashio class submarine, JS Mochishio (SS-600) arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. US Navy Photo

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Oyashio class submarine, JS Mochishio (SS-600) arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam. US Navy Photo

Japan’s navy—the Maritime Self Defense Force (MSDF)—will see a modest boost in ships. The number of diesel-electric submarines is set to rise from 16 to 22. Submarine construction is holding steady at one per year, and the rise will be accomplished, at least in the short term, by refurbishing submarines of the Oyashio class that would otherwise be retired. Japan’s submarines are typically retired after 18 years in service, so its older submarines are actually rather young compared with those of other countries.

The MSDF will also receive a boost in destroyers, with seven more to be acquired, including two Aegis destroyers. The new procurement plan will bring Japan’s total number of destroyers from 47 to 54, and Aegis destroyers from six to eight. In order to accommodate the extra destroyers within the MSDF’s force structure an additional escort flotilla will be formed. Each flotilla consists of two escort squadrons, with each squadron consisting of 4 destroyers. There are currently four escort flotillas, based at Yokosuka, Sasebo, Maizuru, and Kure.

Additionally, there reports that the MSDF is studying the purchase of littoral combat ships of its own. The Mainichi Daily News reports that small, high-speed escort ships to counter the threat of mines and submarines are being considered. Such ships would be ideal for operating in and around the Ryukyus, especially the Miyako Strait. The estimated cost per ship is $582 million.

An undated photo of a Kawasaki P1

An undated photo of a Kawasaki P1

Finally, four Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft will be purchased, bringing the total number in service up to six. The P-1 is an indigenous design meant to replace the Lockheed P-3C Orion. It is similar to the P-8 Poseidon, the most notable difference being that it retains a magnetic anomaly detection boom. Up to 70 P-1s will ultimately be procured.

The Air Self Defense Force (ASDF) will see both a reorganization and injection of new aircraft. The number of ASDF intercepts of foreign aircraft has sharply increased, particularly over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. In response Japan is not only shifting aircraft southward, but is increasing the number of support aircraft and ground radar systems. Fighter aircraft will also see a modest boost.

The airborne early warning group, which oversees Japan’s four E-767 AWACS and 13 E-2C Hawkeyes, will purchase an additional four AWACS aircraft and increase the number of squadrons from two to three. One squadron will be based on Okinawa, where it will be able to monitor the Ryukyus and East China Sea. In addition to aerial radar platforms, the number of ground radar warning squadrons will be bumped to 28.

A Mitsubishi F-15J

A Mitsubishi F-15J

Japan is also sending fighters southward. Naha Airport will receive a second squadron of F-15J air superiority fighters, doubling the number of fighters based there from 20 to 40. Fighter squadrons will increase from 12 to 13, with the number of fighters set to grow from 260 to 280 units. Japan will acquire 28 F-35A Joint Strike Fighters during the five-year period covered by the Mid Term Defense Plan, with another 14 to follow later. Japan is considering a second F-35 purchase, possibly including the F-35B vertical takeoff and landing version for deployment on Japan’s Izumo and Hyuga-class helicopter destroyers.

Reflecting the National Defense Program Guidelines emphasis on intelligence collection, Japan plans on purchasing three Global Hawk unmanned aircraft. Provisions for study of acquiring Global Hawks are included in the 2014 budget, with the first units to be purchased in 2015.

Japan’s Ground Self Defense Forces (GSDF) will see the most change, with sweeping alterations to force structure. The new GSDF will feature three rapid-deployment divisions, three rapid-deployment brigades, one airborne brigade, one helicopter brigade, and one amphibious brigade.

The amphibious brigade will be built on the Western Army Infantry Regiment, a battalion-sized marine infantry unit based at Nagasaki on the southern island of Kyushu. The regiment has served for the past decade as Japan’s test bed for amphibious warfare, and has participated in the joint Iron Fist and Dawn Blitz exercises with United States forces.

The new amphibious brigade’s equipment heavily reflects that of the U.S. Marine Corps, which has taken a mentoring role over the Western Army Infantry Regiment. The brigade will incorporate 52 AAV-7 amphibious vehicles purchased from the United States, including command and recovery variants. The brigade will also incorporate the new Maneuver Combat Vehicle, a 26 ton 8×8 wheeled armored vehicle armed with a 105mm gun. The MCV is designed to be carried by the new C-2 transport for rapid deployment to Japan’s remote islands.

Like the U.S. Marines, the amphibious unit will also be airmobile, thanks to the purchase of 17 V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. The first Osprey will be procured in April 2014 and the procurement process is expected to last five years.

Although the main body of the amphibious brigade will likely remain based at Nagasaki, there are reports a smaller training unit will be established on the northern island of Hokkaido, at Camp Higashi Chitose.

The Mid Term Defense Plan and National Defense Program Guidelines represent a significant change in Japanese defense policy. New capabilities, such as ISR assets, joint operations, and amphibious units will go a long way toward addressing gaps in Japan’s existing defenses. The reorganization of the Self Defense Forces, as well as procurement initiatives for equipment such as the Osprey and Global Hawk will create a foundational basis for the defense of Japan’s southern islands.

  • Giovanni

    Sorry Kyle but I have some questions for you.
    The first one is about the new organization of JMSDF; according to the “National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2014 and beyond”, the number of flotillas and division should remain the same in the future (respectively 4 and 8). Can you confirm this or you have more and different information than me?
    Another issue is about the number of new destroyer; this kind of ship will rise from 47 to 54.
    Do you know if this growth will have to be completed in the 5 years of the Mid-Term Plan or will it take more time?
    Except the 2 new Atago DDGs, do you know something more about the other DDs that Japan is going to build?
    And most of all, considering the age of many ships (like Shirane DDHs, Hatazake DDGs, Hatsuyuki DDs and Abukuma DEs) that are non so away from decommissioning, do you think that 7 new destroyers will be sufficient to reach the new total or maybe the rate of construction will need an increase?

    Thank you.

    • Corey Wallace

      The conventional escort flotillas will remain at 4 for now, although the MTDP and NDPG both suggest that they will be structured around 1 DDH and 2 Aegis-equipped DDGs. It seems the additional ships will be used to help build an additional Escort division outside of the 4/8 flotilla core. It is as of yet unclear for what purpose this additional division will be dedicated towards. Perhaps an additional regional division…or something else. The 54 number as you note comes from the NDPG, which as a rule of thumb is looking ten years out. The MTDP, a five year plan, says 5 additional destroyers (or “escorts”) in MSDF language, with 2 of these being Aegis-equipped.

      • Kyle Mizokami

        Giovanni, Mr. Wallace was my source for the information in question.

        I’m afraid I don’t know any more details regarding MSDF shipbuilding at this point. I would expect the Izumo class to take over for the Shirane class. I imagine the Akizuki class will take over for the Hatakazes and maybe even the Hatsuyukis. As for the Abukumas, it’s possible those will be replaced by the LCS-type ship being proposed.

        Japan is going to have to step up its shipbuilding schedule to get up to 54 destroyers. As you’ve noted there’s a train wreck of about 40% of the fleet all approaching obsolescence all at once.

        • Corey Wallace

          I had a look at the MTDP (which doesn’t seem to be available in English yet, although the NSS and NDPG are). It seems that the MSDF, in addition to the planned introductions of further Aegis-equipped DDGs, P-1s, and SH-60Ks, minesweepers, more US-2s, and surface to ship missiles, will in the meantime seek to extend the life of current group of escorts, as well as subs (which was already the plan), P3Cs and SH-60Js. This will be supplemented by the introduction, as Mr Mizokami correctly notes, of the Japanese version of LCS ships which are considered as part of the “escorts” designation that is often translated “destroyers”. The MSDF has plans to introduce destroyers similar to the Akizuki using the COGLAG system, and with more specialised anti-submarine capabilities (so-called 25DDs) for defending Sea Lines of Communication. There is also discussion of a new ship-based multi-purpose helicopter being introduced.

          • Giovanni

            First of all, a big thanks for you Mr. Wallace and Mr. Mizokami

            Now, I’ll try to recap.

            1) the core of surface fleet will remain on the scheme: 4 flotillas/8 divisions but it’s still unclear if an additional (escort) division will be created;
            2) the growth from 47 to 54 in the number of destroyers (according to the generic definition used by the JMSDF for all these ships) is a ten years’ target, as indicated in the NDPG;
            3) in the 5-years MTDP, the real number of destroyers being built is 5; 2 more Atagos and 3 new kind of ships, optimised for operations in swallow waters/littoral zones and similar to LCS;
            4) these 5 more ships will supplement the Izumo (now in the fitting-out phase), the second DDH of this class (already financed) and the 2 remaining Akizukis (both in fitting-out) that are going to be all commissioned between 2014 and 2017 (all of these 4 platforms were included in the previous MTDP 2011-2015);
            5) as I thought, to sustain this growth there is a need to undertake several SLEPs/modernization programs for many ships;
            6) apart from the new platform that should be similar to the LCS, there are also plans for a derivative of the Akizukis but its fate it’s still unclear.
            And, at least, considering the growing needs coming from the new amphibious brigade and the limited capabilities of the 3 Osumi class LPDs, do you think that JMSDF will need new, bigger and dedicated platforms as, for example, LHDs?
            Could it be the “new ship-based multi-purpose helicopter” indicated by Mr. Wallace?

          • Corey Wallace

            Giovanni, that all sounds about right. Just a note, the 25DD’s fate is certain, in fact I believe money has been put aside for 2 planned vessels so far. I would be surprised if more were not commissioned. As for your question about LHDs, that touches a little more on politics. The four DDHs were constructed without a well deck. They could be used as LPHs, and have no problems with the Osprey, but they were designed explicitly to be used as ASW and command and control vessels, with humanitarian roles as a secondary focus. With the new more explicit amphibious focus indicated in the new NDPG, then it would seem like the next logical step to put a larger, more specialised LHD at sea, perhaps with the ability to launch a handful of F-35Bs (Technically the Izumos could, but it is a stretch). There wouldn’t be any constitutional restrictions in regards to this, but it would be a question of political sensitivity. That’s all I can reasonably speculate on for the time being.

          • Giovanni

            So, the DD25s will be built but now the priority is represented by 2 more Atago e the new platform LCS-style.
            I completely agree with you for the issue concerning new possible LHDs for the JMSDF; it’s more political than technical.
            In any case, and again, even if we consider the new DDHs for a secondary role of LPHs (embarking Ospreys, some troops and, maybe, some light vehicles), the limited capabilities of Osumi class ships could be a problem for the new amphibious brigade.

            With the occasion, I extend my best greetings for a merry Christmas and a happy new year to everybody!

          • Corey Wallace

            I wish you a merry Christmas as well! Take it easy.

  • muzzleloader

    The Japanese becoming more assertive in thier defense posture was unavoidable. Imperial Japan is long gone. While The Constitution of Japan forbids them from having an offensive force, they have a powerful nieghbor that by the day becomes more beligerent, arrogant and bellicose. At the same time, thier chief ally has a President who shows very little willingness to stand up to anyone. I applaud Japan in stepping up to defend thier nation and it’s interests.

  • kenpuck

    If Japan goes nuke, China will suddenly become better behaved. Not rocket science, you should pardon the expression.

  • Sid Tran

    Japan needs to be realistic about its defense expenditures. A 1% defense spending of GDP is not enough to counter the threat of a belligerent, irrational power like China. Japan needs to ramp up its defense spending to at least 3% of GDP. In order to have peace in the Pacific, one has to be prepared to defend it. I see no problem in having a modern, democratic Japan instituting a more robust and assertive foreign policy. Having a strong Japan in the Pacific will less the burden for the US.

  • ahorvath

    After watching the Obama administration blink and betray our allies in Eastern Europe and in the Middle East, the Japanese are modifying their defense plans to ensure their survival even if the USA refuses to honor its defense treaty. Can you blame them?

  • America is dying

    There’s one point that everyone seems to be missing:

    Japan is building it’s military capabilities to meet the rapidly increasing threat from China AND Russia. Smart move on her part, since Obama and the Democrats will be handing the keys to the dying USA to the Chinese Communists within three years.

    Where Japan is making wise moves is increasing it’s own defense capabilities with other country’s technologies (ie, America, Germany) for the immediate future, but I also see signs that they’re slowly moving towards developing their OWN homegrown technological capabilities. No one can doubt Japan’s technical prowess and ability to produce formidable weapons.

    Yes, it’s good to use the state-of-the-art military hardware and technologies that your “allies” use, but when your big friend in the West starts wearing pink tutus and suddenly has a very limp wrist, you’d better learn how to stand up for yourself, and FAST.

  • It’s about time.

  • James Bowen

    These are steps in the right direction, but it is probably not enough. Japan needs nuclear submarines, nuclear weapons, and an ability to deploy high performance combat aircraft afloat (i.e. aircraft carriers). The U.S. Navy has gotten too small and is spread way too thin to guarantee the successful defense of Japan.

  • Mario Tungol Eufemio

    The Government of Japan needs to act now as the new found power of Communist China is overwhelming. Right now, the Chinese are mostly acting as if it is all territories with semblance of Chinese name and people are theirs. from the Senkaku Islands to the South china Sea and the West Philippine Sea, the Chinese are busy laying claims to many territories (with possible large oil deposits) hundred of miles from its shores to the detriment of Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, Singapore, Japan, India, Mongolia, Uzbekistan, Russia and etc. Japan must stand up to these greedy nation and arm its defense forces to check Chinese expanisonist and hegemonism in that part of the world.

  • KeithWhisman

    Japan is merely preparing for another Godzilla attack. They much protect Tokyo at all costs. God bless them and protect them.