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Defence For and From Japan

A detailed look at the new interpretation of Japanese collective self-defence

In recent years Japan has increased defence spending and initiated efforts to export locally-produced equipment to other countries, mainly in South East Asia. This plan, however, is less successful than Tokyo might have wished for. At least until now.

Japan, characterised by complete, unquestionable pacifism and neutralism, has ended up with the conservative Shinzo Abe as Prime Minister from December 2012. Since then, he has been trying to transform Japan into a more active actor in the region, particularly in military and security posture. It is foremost a reaction to an increasingly assertive and expansionist approach by China – Tokyo’s main rival. 

Japan was, for a long time, forbidden from exporting its military products – which are officially known as “defence products” or “defence equipment;” the word “military” is never used. In 1967, Japan introduced a limited export ban, which was extended to include any transfer in 1976. Abe changed this policy in 2014 as part of his security and defence strategy. 

Export is also necessary if Japanese defence companies want to avoid financial problems. Indeed, all three major players – Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI), and Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI) – have recorded recent profit declines.
An Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA) was established in October 2015, to support Japan’s new path. One of its major goals is to, “strengthen defence equipment and technology cooperation with foreign countries.”

In an official statement, ATLA refers to the “Vientiane Vision” unveiled in November 2016 by Defence Minister Tomomi Inada following the ASEAN meeting in the Laotian capital. This doctrine promotes strong cooperation with ASEAN countries (Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam), due to the fact that they are located, “in vital areas of Japan’s sea lanes.”

Japan has already approached these countries and agreed either to begin military cooperation or at least to initiate negotiations to this effect. However, Japan clearly states that export is only possible to countries that are not involved in conflict or if it does not violate Japan’s law and agreements or any resolution of the UN Security Council. Any export must support the, “active promotion of peace and international cooperation,” and the security of Japan.

ATLA promotes cooperation on defence technologies and procurement. Currently, Japan has only a few products available for export, one of which is the P-1 maritime patrol aircraft (MPA), which has been in JSDF service since March 2013 and is produced by Kawasaki Aerospace Company (part of KHI), which also manufactures the C-2 twin-turbofan long-range transport aircraft, which entered JSDF service in June 2016. There are indications that Vietnam is considering a procurement from Japan of either used P-3Cs or new P-1s, with the US Navy as a potential alternative source for the former. Thailand is also believed to be interested in P-1s and New Zealand has reportedly requested information on both the P-1 and C-2 aircraft potential replacements for P-3K2s and C-130Hs respectively. The P-1 has to compete with the P-8A POSEIDON, while the C-2 has to contend with the A400M, C-17, and KC-390. The P-1, which, in Japan, is a successor to the P-3C ORION, could also be offered to other regional users of P-3s, such as Australia, South Korea, and Taiwan.

ShinMaywa Industries manufacture the US-2 amphibious STOL aircraft for the SAR, emergency transport, and maritime surveillance roles. Already in service with the JSDF, the company has yet to secure a foreign customer. In December 2015, Japan signed an agreement on the transfer of military technologies with India and discussions on the US-2 for the Indian Navy and Coast Guard have been ongoing since then. Unit cost appears to be the principle obstacle, although Japan has reportedly agreed to a decrease of 10% to U$113 million for 12-18 aircraft. A contract, which was signalled for the first time in mid-2014, is expected soon. Deliveries of the US-2s will not only be useful from a military point of view, but will also support the Indo-Japanese bloc vis-à-vis China, which has been increasing its presence in the Indian Ocean and is a long-standing ally of India’s arch-enemy, Pakistan. 

In late March 2017, Japan delivered the first two of five TC-90 KING AIR advanced trainers to the Philippine Navy; the remaining three will be delivered by the end of 2017, as per an agreement reached in September 2016. At the same time, the Japanese Coast Guard handed over a second OJIKA-class vessel to the Malaysian Maritime Enforcement Agency. The Philippine Coast Guard has also commissioned a third 44m multirole response vessel (MRRV) to be delivered by Japan Maritime United Corporation (JMUC) in Yokohama for transfer in 2018. In total, 10 MRRVs have been ordered. Meanwhile, Vietnam will have the loan of six Japanese patrol vessels.

It was also rumoured that Japan held some initial talks with the UK regarding the delivery of P-1s to the RAF as a replacement for its NIMRODs, but ultimately, in November 2015, London selected the P-8A. Another potential customer was Australia: In July 2014, both countries signed an agreement on further cooperation, which paved the way for joint research on maritime hydrodynamics. Tokyo had hoped to convince Australia to procure its SORYU-class diesel-electric attack submarines, manufactured by MHI and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation (a subsidiary of KHI). Finally, in April 2016, the DCNS SHORTFIN BARRACUDA Block 1A was chosen for a requirement of 12 submarines.

One of the reasons for this, at least according to local reports in Australia, was that Japan failed to offer an attractive offset, which could have created job opportunities in Australia, which faces a period of de-industrialisation. By choosing the Japanese bid, Canberra would also have worsened its ties with China. It is also said that neither Japanese company had sufficient production capacity to deliver submarines simultaneously to Australia and the JSDF. This was a major blow to Abe’s new export policy, not only from a prestige and geostrategic perspective, but also from a purely economic one; the contract is worth €36 billion over the next 30 years.

Japan is now interested in a modernisation programme in India, which is looking for six AIP-equipped attack submarines. Although Tokyo was invited to submit a bid, there is only a minimal chance that it will be successful, since India expects that all units will be constructed in Indian shipyards. On the other hand, the SOTYU’s 4,200t displacement seems to meet current Indian requirements. In this bid, Japan will have to compete (depending the final specification) with DCNS, Saab, thyssenkrupp Marine Systems, and HHI (South Korea).

In order to increase its import/export potential, Japan has been developing industrial interactions with Europe, albeit rather slowly. An agreement to transfer military equipment and technology was signed with the UK in July 2013. Both countries are involved in a collaborative research project on the feasibility of a new joint air-to-air missile, which is scheduled to end by March 2018. Another project between London and Tokyo is related to chemical and biological protection technologies and in late March 2017, an agreement to undertake a joint study on co-development of next-generation aircraft was signed. A similar agreement with France was signed in March 2015 and came into force in December 2016. As a more practical step, in January 2017, a cooperation agreement on mine detection and unmanned underwater vehicles was signed. In February, Airbus Helicopters signed a contract extension with ATLA on performance-based logistics for H225 helicopters, five of which are in Coast Guard service, with a sixth ordered in March 2016.

Japan’s defence potential, in terms of both the JSDF’s needs and export, has been strengthened by long-term cooperation with the US. Japan is involved in the production of F-35A aircraft and the establishment of a regional depot for them, as well as a joint maintenance base for V-22s. A third project is related to the transfer of software and parts of the AEGIS weapons system, while a fourth focuses on the joint development of the SM-3 Block IIA missiles, the first successful intercept for which took place in February 2017. The US could be an important partner in MHI’s current project for a new amphibious assault vehicle with a speed of 20-25kts compared to the seven of the AAV-7.

For the full version of this article, please see MILITARY TECHNOLOGY 6/2017, available at MAST Asia 2017 in Tokyo, Japan.

Dr. Robert Czulda


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