The security environment surrounding Japan is becoming uncertain at a remarkably fast speed. Some powerful countries are seeking to shape the global or regional order to expand their influence. There are so many things to talk about regarding security, but let me put aside the others and focus on the future of regional security by addressing two topics that are significant to Japan’s national security.
Let me begin with China from a long-term perspective. It cannot be denied that China will build up world-class forces by the mid-21st century, as the country claims. China has increased its defense budget approximately 48-fold over the past three decades, whereas the U.S. defense budget has doubled during the same period. China’s budget is approximately four times larger than that of Japan and is said to be only behind the U.S. budget, but it has failed to explain its intentions, strategies and goals. The lack of transparency is striking. The amount of the defense budget announced by China is considered to be only a tip of the iceberg, and its actual military expenditure is opaque.
With the increasing defense budget, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army has been broadly and rapidly expanding its military capabilities. For instance, China now has 988 so-called fourth- and fifth-generation fighter jets, and the number has already surpassed that of Russia. It is also said to be constructing a third aircraft carrier. In addition to anti-ship ballistic missiles, which are considered to be used to construct an anti-access, area-denial network, China seems to possess ballistic missiles that can be loaded with a hypersonic glide vehicle — a cutting-edge technology. Furthermore, China promotes a civil-military fusion and takes advantage of civilian technology, which indicates that China emphasizes initiatives in maritime, space, cyber, artificial intelligence and other “emerging areas for China.”
China has intensified its activities around Japan as well. China has been attempting to change the status quo in the East China Sea. Chinese government ships, which are controlled by the People’s Armed Police under the command of the Central Military Commission, enter the Japanese contiguous zone around the Senkaku islands almost every day and violate its territorial waters three times a month. Furthermore, last July China conducted the first joint strategic flight of bombers with Russia from the Sea of Japan to the East China Sea. China also dramatically increased its military aircraft flights into the Pacific Ocean in 2017. The number of scrambles by Japan Self-Defense Forces fighter jets against Chinese military aircraft amounted to 638 in 2018 alone.
Additionally, North Korea is a serious and imminent threat. North Korea has repeated cycles of negotiation, return and breakdown, during which it has improved its nuclear and missile capabilities. It’s assessed that North Korea has already acquired the capability to attack Japan with its nuclear weapons. Since last May, it has repeatedly launched ballistic missiles, which violate United Nations Security Council resolutions.
It is obvious that North Korea is accelerating the sophistication of relevant technology. In particular, last October, North Korea launched a submarine-launched ballistic missile that seemingly fell into Japan’s exclusive economic zone, posing a serious threat to the security of Japan.
So far, North Korea has tried to improve surprise attack capabilities by enhancing secrecy and instantaneity through utilizing solid fuel, transporter-erector-launcher and submarine capabilities. Furthermore, it’s been noted that new short-range ballistic missiles launched this year flew in an irregular trajectory at lower altitude than conventional ballistic missiles, which could indicate that North Korea aims to break through missile defense systems.
Considering the above, it is vital for the Ministry of Defense and the Japan Self-Defense Forces, or JSDF, to take firm actions to protect its people’s lives from various contingencies. With regard to China, I believe that such Chinese military developments represent a serious concern. As for North Korea, it is certainly essential to continue to make diplomatic efforts to achieve complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement of nuclear weapons and all weapons of mass destruction; however, it hasn’t done so. In both cases, the development of Japan’s military capabilities is required in case of contingencies.
Specifically, Japan now tries to develop a Multi-Domain Defense Force based on the National Defense Program Guidelines as well as the Medium Term Defense Program, which were formulated in December 2018. In order to realize cross-domain operations, JSDF will acquire and enhance capabilities in new domains, which are space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum.
Moreover, Japan is trying to obtain and maintain air superiority by acquiring F-35Bs and short-takeoff-and-vertical-landing aircraft, as well as refurbishing Izumo-class destroyers to enable F-35B operations on them.
Furthermore, establishing a comprehensive air and missile defense capability is one of the top priorities stipulated by these guidelines. Japan needs to improve the equipment in both quantity and quality through the introduction of the Aegis Ashore and PAC-3 MSE (Patriot Advanced Capability-3 Missile Segment Enhancement), and establish a structure to conduct more integrated operations by linking air defense missiles, radars and Aegis ships through a network across the service.