The Japanese Defense White paper 2020 (JDWP) released on 14 July has more criticism of China than before. It is the first time that a JDWP has characterized China’s actions around the Senkaku islands as relentlessly seeking to affect Japans control over them at the time of the Covid crisis.”
Worried about the rapid increase in China’s capabilities and intent, the Japanese paper recognises the priorities of its major ally, the United States. It is cautious, that through the militarization of outlying islands in areas claimed under the Nine Dash Line, China uses various means to seek alteration in the regional status quo, to the disadvantage of other countries. This is especially as the region focuses on its response to the pandemic. The paper is of the view that ‘gray zones’ of hostility without war, over economic, resources and sovereignty related issues are increasing and that there is a lack of a regional architecture on security issues. Covid-19 is having an impact on military preparedness and response. The BRI is seen as providing China with growing clout though the project and policy it is getting a bit cloudy now.
As the threat of China to a rule-based international order is enhanced, the Quad grouping of the US, India, Japan and Australia is seen as a robust response to this. The White Paper does not mention the Quad directly, but cooperation with its members is high in its reckoning of the Free and Open Indo Pacific. India is mentioned only in the context of defence cooperation and exchanges under the 2+2 dialogue. The Galwan clashes in Ladakh are not mentioned.
In recent weeks, the Quad has exercised in the region with the aircraft carrier groups of the US Navy when in their vicinity. The Malabar exercise is also likely to include Australia to make it a complete Quad. This exercise is more focused than the 27 country Cobra Gold or the Komodo organised by Thailand and Indonesia respectively.
Participation in the Quad shows Japan’s resolve to play a larger role within its region. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s ‘Free and Open Indo Pacific Vision’ is a manifestation of this, including through its enhanced naval capacities. The Paper states: “The Indo-Pacific region is the core of the world’s vitality, supporting more than half the world’s population. It is important to establish this region as a free and open global commons to secure peace and prosperity in the region as a whole.”
For this role, Japan seeks to improve its production of military weaponry and naval assets. This paper endeavors to look at this aspect of Japans defence policy. The document emphasises the Pillars for Japan’s Defence, including Strategic Promotion of Multi-Faceted and Multi-Layered Defense Cooperation, Responses in the Domains of Space, Cyberspace and Electromagnetic Spectrum and Response to Large-Scale Disasters.
The White Paper strategizes on priorities in enhancing Japan’s military capabilities to allow it to provide for the alterations in its security environment. Cross-Domain Operations including a greater emphasis on space, cyberspace and electro-magnetic spectrum are to be undertaken. Improved capability in traditional sectors such as maritime, air power and missile defence are also envisaged. Securing maritime shipping lanes, protecting its infrastructure, enhancing its technology and military industrial base, are highlighted. Japan’s Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) is a tiered defence system with Aegis carrying destroyers and the Patriot PAC-3, coordinated by the Japan Aerospace Defense Ground Environment (JADGE). The land-based Aegis deployment has been deferred in June 2020.
The Japanese defence industry had remained shackled under the Peace Constitution. When Abe returned to office in 2012, it got a new life. By 2013, the policy called for better defence capabilities to protect Japan and its US ally from the growing predatory behavior of China. In 2014, the embargo on exports was removed and in 2015, the Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) was established. Given the restriction to the small home market, lack of R&D, and general pacifism and thus high costs, the defence industry neither had priority nor importance. Between 2017 and 2020, Japan's defence budget grew by 2.75% to reach $48.5 billion in 2020 from $ 47.2 billion in 2017. ‘Defense-related expenditures for 2020 were increased by 61.8 billion yen from the previous fiscal year to 5.0688 trillion yen (an increase of 1.2% from the previous year). Defence-related expenditure has increased for eighth consecutive years’ notes the White Paper. What has changed under Abe and to what extent can the defence industry play a bigger role ahead?
Since 2014, Japan has lifted the embargo on exports. In 2015, it held its first arms exhibition. However, its ability to penetrate overseas markets remains limited. The effort is meant to boost economies of scale but the systems offered are few. They have delivered non-lethal patrol boats to ASEAN countries under ODA. Philippines acquired TC-90 aircraft for surveillance. Besides, it has tried to work with France and Germany on the P1 Japanese fly-by-optics, submarine hunter aircraft and possibly connect with NATO, but faces French and US competition. Thailand and Vietnam have shown muted interest in it while the UK and New Zealand scrutinized it, eventually going with US products. Similar competition was faced when Japan bid for the Australian contract with its Soryu Class attack submarine, but lost to the French.
In 2020, despite dealing with the Covid-19, Mitsubishi Electric Corp. was awarded the contract for the Philippine Air Force’s air surveillance radar systems project; Mitsui Engineering & Shipbuilding launched the third Hibiki-class ocean surveillance ship and were expecting more orders as Japan launched its Space Operations Squadron. In the defence budget of 2020, $ 459.2 million is budgeted for space-related projects, like procurement of Space Situational Awareness (SSA) Satellite (Space-based Optical Telescope), enhancing satellite communication systems and so on. The cyber security budget of $240 million, includes the procurement of Cyber Information Gathering System and AI Systems to react to cyber-warfare. Shin Maywah, Kawasaki Heavy Industries, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Japan Steel Works and Toshiba Corporation took a larger market share during the current period, with new initiatives and innovations being undertaken by these companies.
In 2018, there were seven Japanese companies in the Top 100 Defence Contractors list, but in 2019 these diminished to 3 due to fewer domestic orders as Japan bought more directly from the US. The Shin Maywah deal with Mahindra Aerospace on the US2 amphibian aircraft was signed in 2018 but awaits clear forward momentum. The high price and Japanese reluctance to transfer technology for joint production remain challenges yet to be overcome.
Even as India is not mentioned often in the JDWP, in reality, India-Japan defence cooperation is improving, politically and on the seas. In order to give it more value, India ought to attract non-lethal manufacturing of defence-related electronics, components, space equipment and cyber security collaboration with Tokyo. The technology partnerships and FDI should be based on a model with new-dedicated technology-led clusters, perhaps in the defence corridors. Japan’s limitations are high costs, inflexible procedures and being risk-averse, and it should be engaged to create a partnership based on an economic model leading to a value chain unique to India and Japan. This could start a new avenue of focused collaboration.
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