TOKYO — Japan's defense budget for 2015 prioritizes intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) improvements as the Ministry of Defense attempts to bolster, in particular, its ability to protect Japan's far-flung southwestern island chain, Nansei Shoto.
New ISR programs — some announced, some in planning — show Japan is extending its ISR reach not only in air- and space-based systems, but also in new maritime applications.
"The focus on improved ISR is useful and reflects a few things — nNot least, Japan's current ISR capabilities don't provide a useful operating picture of what's going on in the region," said Grant Newsham, a senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies.
Japan's approach to ISR changed radically in 1998 when a North Korean Taepodong missile overflew the nation, shocking it and spurring leaders leading the nation to develop a small constellation of information-gathering satellites (IGS) reconnaissance satellites.
But a 2007 direct-ascent Chinese anti-satellite test and the surge in probing and incursions into Japanese air and maritime domains have alarmed planners and the public alike. For example, from January to April, in the year to April 2015, the Air Self-Defense Force scrambled fighters 943 times against Russian and Chinese aircraft, the second highest on record since 944 incidents times in 1984. Incidents steadily dropped through the 1990s and early 2000s, with totals typically in the 140s to 160s. By 2005 it was up to 229, in 2010 it was 386, surging to 943 five years later, according to MoD figures. in 2000 aircraft were only scrambled there only and compared to 155 times, in 2000, according to MoD figures.
"Given an increasingly assertive PRC [People's Republic of China] in recent years and North Korean movement toward better missile and nuclear capabilities, the region has never seemed more dangerous from a Japanese perspective," Newsham said. "Having a clear intelligence picture is obviously of fundamental importance."
To keep watch over the Nansei Shoto, the MoD announced that it will acquire Global Hawk Unmanned Areal Vehicles (UAVs) and is researching the use of ship-based UAVs. To support these moves, the MoD will also deploy a new 303rd coastal observation unit on Yonaguni Island, which abuts Taiwan.
"There is concern in some quarters that Japan is overly dependent on the US's ISR capabilities and needs more of its own proprietary resources, particularly in terms of PRC and North Korean activities," Newsham said. "The … surveillance unit on Yonaguni is going to need assistance from Maritime- and Air- Self-Defense Force assets to really be effective."
Japan is also making a major push in space-based ISR following a new military and national security-oriented space strategy released in January. The nation's which could see a doubling of The nation's current small constellation of four information-gathering satellites could double within 10 years, and a series of new dual-use satellites for ISR purposes is being considered.., and IGS over ten 10 years, and the harnessing of a series of new dual-use satellites for ISR purposes is being considered.
For example, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is cooperating with the MoD to host a ballistic missile early warning sensor on a new JAXA-built reconnaissance satellite called ALOS-3, and may go ahead and develop a space-based early warning architecture to support the US. JAXA is also investing in a slew of new dual-use ISR satellite programs, including tactical satellites, and Japan is also considering whether it wants to build space-based signals intelligence and electronic intelligence SIGINT and ELINT assets.
"Space-based ISR is certainly an important issue for the US due to its global defense obligations," said Scott Pace, director of the Space Policy Institute at the George Washington University's Elliott School of International Affairs.
In addition, both space situational awareness and maritime domain awareness are now key priorities for space-based ISR, following a series of agreements with the US, which is keen for Japan to play a greater role in these areas, Pace said.
Japan also wants is turning to new ways to bolster its maritime ISR, strengths, most notably through the acquisition of 20 Kawasaki P-1 patrol aircraft, with improved detection/discernment capabilities, flight performance, information-processing capabilities, and attack capabilities to succeed existing P-3C fixed-wing patrol aircraft, which are also receiving upgrades.
Japan plans is also planning to refocus on "close-in" ISR to protect ports, harbors and other critical infrastructure, said Bob Nugent, affiliate consultant at AMI International. At least five MoD research projects cover a variety of unmanned maritime ISR systems and technologies, including long-range "sea gliders," cooperative networks of surface and underwater unmanned vehicles (UUVs). and new command-and-control technologies for unmanned vehicle networks.
Some of these systems will be featured at the MAST Asia maritime security exhibition event to be held mid-May in Yokohama. For example, NEC Corp.oration will outline a proposed system of underwater wireless electric charging stations for UUVs.
"Japan is keenly looking at advanced long-range acoustic hydrophones using optical fiber rather than traditional electro-acoustic listening devices," Nugent said. "Additional MoD research includes projects to improve performance of underwater passive sonar arrays. All these highlight the Japan's need to improve ISR in the underwater domain."
Nugent said improved energy storage and charge/recharge technologies will be a key enabler for many of the advanced ISR platforms. Several Japanese and international companies are researching power and energy technologies "beyond the battery."
Japan's next-generation system requirements are already creating new opportunities for suppliers, said Eric Johnson, president of JSR Micro, the US subsidiary of JSR, a major Japanese semiconductor materials company.
"We're developing advanced energy storage technologies using supercapacitors that deliver very high bursts of energy and recharge quickly … needed for remote maritime sensors; unmanned vehicles operating over, on or under the water; and even space satellites … areas of particular interest in Japan and beyond for future maritime ISR systems," Johnson said.
Newsham said Japan needs to go beyond its traditional focus on systems and technology and focus on now better integration between the services and between Japan and the US, particularly since the alliance partners have just updated their defense guidelines touting "seamless" cooperation.
"More effective ISR allows Japan to make more of a contribution to the overall US-Japan defense effort. … Japan has some good ISR hardware, but it hasn't created a coherent national ISR network that collects intelligence from all sources, properly assesses and classifies it, and disseminates it to the right end users — both in Japan and elsewhere," Newsham said.