JAPANESE MILITARY: DEFENSE SPENDING, FORCES, WEAPONS, STRATEGY AND CAPABILITIES

JAPANESE MILITARY

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Japanese naval ships
Japan has been described as “obsessively pacifist.” According to Japan's "peace constitution" the nation's military is supposed to be used for defensive purposes only. Japan's experience in World War II left much resentment and bitterness. Schools teach pacifism. Despite this the Japanese military, which has one of the largest budgets and some of the most sophisticated weapons in the world.

Not one Japanese soldier has been killed--or has killed anybody--in combat since the end of World War II. Instead of an "Army," "Navy" and "Air Force," Japan has "Self-Defense Forces." There are Ground Self-Defense Force personnel (equivalent to the army), Maritime Self-Defense Force personnel (equivalent to the navy) and Air Self-Defense Force personnel (equivalent to the air force).

The Self-Defense Forces (SDF) were created in 1954 after World War II as a strictly defensive body. It grew out of a police militia set up in 1950 at the request of Douglas MacArthur after the outbreak of the Korean War. The creation of the SDF was largely supported by the United States who was in they midst of the Cold War, had just extracted itself from a war in Korea and was in need of allies in East Asia.

Through much of its history the SDF has been a pretty low key institution that stood in the background while the United States took care of Japan’s real defensive needs. Japan’s constitution bars it from employing a military in international disputes or having an army for warfare.

In 2004, a new plan was unveiled to make the SDF into a proper military with an international focus and geared towards problems that Japan faces in the modern world, namely North Korea, China and terrorism. Among the early changes were the establishment of a major counterterrorism unit and a beefing up of its intelligence network.

Sometimes there is almost as much resistant to Japanese military bases and there is to American ones. At Hyakuri Air Field north of Tokyo, for example, farmers living around the base, and in some cases in it, refuse to sell their land, even when offered twice the market value for it, and endure supersonic jets lifting off meters away from their homes---all because of their desire to continue farming and voice their opposition to war.

The LDP, Japan’s ruling political party, has proposed constitutional amendment that would officially recognize the military and give the military greater freedom to operate overseas.

Links in this Website: JAPANESE MILITARY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; CHANGING JAPANESE MILITARY Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; AMERICAN MILITARY IN JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPAN AND THE WORLD Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; TERRORISM, PIRACY AND KIDNAPPING AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; JAPAN, IRAQ, IRAN AND AFRICA Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; SOUTH KOREA AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; NORTH KOREA AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; CHINA AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; RUSSIA AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ; UNITED STATES AND JAPAN Factsanddetails.com/Japan ;

Good Websites and Sources: Global Security Guide on the Japanese Military globalsecurity.org ;Military Pictures on Defence Talk defencetalk.com ; Military Pictures on Military Photos militaryphotos.net ; Wikipedia article on Japan Self Defense Forces Wikipedia ; PBS Documentary on Japan’s Self Defense Forces pbs.org/wnet/wideangle ; Japan Ministry of Defense mod.go.jp ; U.S. Forces Japan Official Site usfj.mil ; U.S. Military Bases in Japan japanbases.com

Japanese Military Defense Strategy

Since World War II, Japan has relied the United States for protection and engaged in military matters overseas and dealt with potential terrorist threats by throwing around money rather taking a military stance.

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During the Cold War Japan’s military strategy was to assist the United States in its efforts to contain communism and be ready to amass land forces on the northern island of Hokkaido, where they were dug in against a Soviet invasion.Japan has a large military presence in Hokkaido in case Russia tries to invade. Japanese and United States forces conduct joint exercise there is what is regarded as an outdated vestige of the Cold War.

The Ground Self-Defense Force traditionally has concentrated core troops and tanks in Hokkaido. The GSDF used to deploy more than 1,000 tanks nationwide during the Cold War and still has nearly 700 tanks. Many of them are too heavy to easily transport--in other words, they are deployable only in full-scale fighting in Hokkaido, a development that now is considered very unlikely.

In recent years Japan has developed new strategies to deal with threats such as attacks by infiltrators, the launching of missiles with biological and chemical weapons, evacuating civilians and freeing hostages.

Japan primary military focus in on Asia. Tokyo is worried about China's military growth and friction between Taiwan and China and South Korea and North Korea that could draw Japan into a conflict. Shinichi Kitaoka, professor of political science at the University of Tokyo and Japanese ambassador to the United Nations in 2004-2006, wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: Currently, the main source of concern for Japan lies in the southwest. To cope with the situation, the country must strengthen its defenses in Okinawa Prefecture--particularly those of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, such as submarines and Aegis-equipped destroyers, and of the Air Self-Defense Force. To that end, the government should downsize troops in Hokkaido to free up resources for a defense buildup in Okinawa Prefecture, while the remaining troops should be realigned to enhance their mobility so they could be promptly deployed to the southwest.

Japan is also concerned about the Middle East and the shipping lanes between the Middle East and Japan. Japan gets 90 percent of its oil from the Persian Gulf and the Middle East . Stability in the region and security along shipping lanes in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea, India Ocean and Straits of Malacca are vital to Japan’s security and economic prosperity.

See Changes in the Japanese Military

Military Spending in Japan

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Japan spends about $56 billion on year on its military, roughly the same as Germany, half of what China spends and a 14th of what the U.S. spends. The United States spends 4 to 5 percent of its GDP on defense compared to just 1 percent for Japan and takes up much higher burdens in terms of actual combat operations.

Defense spending declined five percent between 2000 and 2010. In that the time defense spending by China quadrupled and that of the United States and South Korea doubled. Even with the decline Japan’s defense budget is still estimated to be one of the five or six largest in the world. In 2006, Japan had a $45 billion defense budget, the forth largest in the world, and ironic for a country that officially doesn’t have a military. In 2002, Japan spent $42.6 billion on defense, more than France, Russia and China. Only the United States spent more. In 1995 Japan spent $53 billion (including payments for U.S. bases) on defense.

There are several reasons why Japan spends so much: the cost of living is high in Japan, it soldiers are the highest paid in the world, Japan insists on making many of its own weapons at cost many times more than importing similar weapons, and Japan makes large payments to the United States military.

Defense spending was trimmed by 0.3 percent in the 2007 budget as part of the effort to shrink the deficit. Spending on ground and naval forces was cut while missile defense, aimed at providing protection against North Korea, increased 30.5 percent.

Defense Budget Rises in 2013 after Decade of Falls

The Japanese government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party decided to raise the defense budget for fiscal 2013, marking the first year-on-year rise in 11 years. In January 2013, The Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The government and the ruling party will thus make a sweeping review of the nation's defense policy amid increased security challenges mostly due to North Korea's launch of long-range ballistic missiles and China's maritime expansion. The Defense Ministry said it wants to increase its budget appropriation request for fiscal 2013 by more than 100 billion yen compared to the current fiscal year's initial budget appropriation of 4.645 trillion yen (about $60 billion). [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, January 9, 2013]

Defense spending has been decreasing year-on-year since fiscal 2003 due to the government's worsening finances. When the administration of then Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda compiled budget appropriation requests for fiscal 2013 in September, defense spending was decreased by about 60 billion yen from the current fiscal year to 4.585 trillion yen. About 40 percent of defense spending for fiscal 2012--or 2.7 trillion yen--was allocated for salaries of Self-Defense Forces members and food expenses. For this reason, continued decreases in defense spending would make it difficult for the SDF to procure aircraft, vessels and other necessary equipment. [Ibid]

After the LDP took over power from the DPJ in the wake of the election, the ministry has decided to increase the amount of its budget appropriation request for the next fiscal year, which it plans to spend mainly on: 1) Securing fuel and repair costs for early-warning aircraft and airborne warning and control system planes. 2) Researching radar technology that can detect small aircraft from a long distance. 3) Making preparations for the introduction of the U.S. military's new MV-22 Osprey transport aircraft. [Ibid]

In the past 10 years, defense expenditures in surrounding countries have soared. Russia, for example, is spending 5.8 times its level a decade ago and China is spending 3.7 times what it did 10 years ago. The Chinese military's rapid modernization and expansion of its activities have caused particular concern throughout Asia. In addition to the rising nuclear and missile threat from North Korea, the Russian military in the Far East has markedly beefed up its activities recently, as illustrated by large-scale exercises in the Sea of Okhotsk. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, October 8, 2011]

Military Forces in Japan

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Ground Self-Defense Forces
“The Japanese military, although small, possesses elite niche capabilities, in special-forces and diesel submarine warfare.” The Ground Self-Defense Force has one armored division, an airborne brigade, a helicopter brigade, and a counterterrorism unit,

Population in military: .20 percent (compared to 4.6 percent in North Korea and .73 percent in the United States).

Number of people in the military: 230,000 (compared 65,000 in Argentina and 3,300,000 in China). There were an additional 145,000 regular personnel and 14,000 ready reserve personnel.

Japan doesn’t have a military service like South Korea and many other nations. The military has traditionally had difficulty recruiting soldiers and has one of the highest drop out rates in the world. In some cases it has been unable to fulfill troop quotas. In recent years a military career has become more attractive to young people. In some cases there more than 40 applicants per available spot.

Women are allowed to serve in the SDF. About 4.2 percent of Japan’s military personnel are women, compared to 15.5 percent in the United States. In January the first woman, Capt. Miho Takemoto, was appointed to head a prefectural unit, in Aomori. She had been the MSDF for 30 years

Shinichi Kitaoka, professor of political science at the University of Tokyo and Japanese ambassador to the United Nations in 2004-2006, wrote in the Yomiuri Shimbun: “In terms of human resources, the SDF is the costliest force in the world, which makes less money available to spend on defense systems. Whereas armed forces in other countries usually have a pyramid-shaped personnel structure with officers far outnumbered by soldiers, there is little difference in the numbers of officers and soldiers in the SDF. To streamline the personnel structure, an early retirement system should be adopted. Specifically, instead of the existing mandatory retirement age, the SDF should introduce a cap on the maximum years of service for its members as many foreign countries have done. Likewise, the salary for certain types of SDF duties with little danger should be lowered to that of ordinary civil servants

Soldiers in the Japanese military have been called into earthquake-hit areas to help rescue people trapped under collapsed buildings, supply water and repair roads damaged by landslides. In the event of a major Tokyo area earthquake, a plan calls for the mobilization of 20,000 troops in 24 hours , with 17,000 more on the second and 37,500 more on top of that on the third day.

See Search and Rescue, 2011 Tsunami

Ground Forces and Navy in Japan

The Ground Self-Defense Force has 900 battle tanks and 900 pieces of heavy artillery. In the future it wants to reduces these to 600 battle tanks and 600 pieces of heavy artillery. GDF forces were reduced by 1,000 to 154,000 in 2011. Before the reduction the GDF forces were comprised of 148,0000 regular personnel and 7,000 ready reserve personnel.

Japan has the most powerful navy in Asia after the United States. The Maritime Self-Defense Force has 16 submarines, 170 combat aircraft and 50 destroyers, including four Kongo-class Aegis destroyers, and a 600-foot, 13,500-ton helicopter carrier. The government is discussing buying assault ships with decks for launching helicopters and Harrier jump jets.

Japan has a fleet of wooden minesweepers, made of wood so magnetic underwater mines will not react to them. They have been deployed in the Persian Gulf to remove mines planted there in the Gulf War. Japan has 760,000 stored mines, compared to 11 million in the United States.

In April 2009, a helicopter-carrying destroyer was put into service. The 197-meter-long, 12,950 ton ship carries a crew of 340.

Air Self-Defense Force in Japan

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old fighters
The Air Self-Defense Force has about 300 combat aircraft. It the future it wants to reduce this to 260. Among the weapons in Japan's advanced arsenal are Orion anti-submarine planes, F-15 fighter jets, and sophisticated radar and jamming devices. Japan’s C-130 planes are baby blue to they blend in with the sky.

The Japanese government is discussing buying airborne tankers, refueling equipment for aircraft, large long-range cargo planes, Harrier jump jets. It wants to replace the aging fleet of F- Phantoms.

Japan has developed prototypes for a C-X transport jet and P-X patrol jet made completely in Japan It also has plans to develop a prototype for a stealth jet.

In the future Japan was planing to deploy American-made F-22 stealth fighters. But when the Pentagon decided in 2009 to trim the F-22 production it recommended that Japan use F-35s as “Japan’s main striker.” The F-22 cost $140 million a piece. The F-35 is also a stealth fighter. Japan is also considering the American-made F/A-18 and F-15FX, the European-made Eurofighter, and the French-made Rafeal

Missiles and Missile Defense in Japan

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Japan traditionally has not deployed its own ballistic missiles. It has been covered by the U.S. nuclear umbrella. In December 2003, Japanese decided to deploy a missile defense system in response to threats from North Korea. When complete it will include four Aegis destroyers, seven groups and four squadrons of aircraft control and warning units and three groups of surface-to-air missile units, including Patriot missile defense system.

The United States and Japan began deploying missile interceptors---the Patriot Advanced Capabilities-3 system, known as PAC-3---on Japanese soil in August 2006. The complete system is designed to protect Japan from incoming missiles fired from North Korea and to a lesser extent China and a lesser extent still, Russia. The system is expected to take eight years to set and cost around $10 billion. Approval of the missile system was accompanied by a relaxation on the ban on weapons exports, which make it easier for Japan to work with other countries to develop the system. There is a plan to deploy Patriot missiles nationwide.

Japan has produced Standard Missile 3 interceptor missiles, which are based on board Japanese Aegis-class destroyers. It has plans to develop a long-range, precision-guided, ground-to-ground missile and long-range, unmanned reconnaissance aircraft. As part of its efforts to become more militarily strong, Japan is studying plans to produce its own long-range missiles. As it stands Japanese rockets used to put satellites in orbit can be easily adapted for military purposes.

In December 2007, a mock ballistic missile’similar to the Rodong missiles tested by North Korea---fired from Hawaii was intercepted and destroyed by a SM-3 missile fired from the Aegis destroyer Kongo cruising in the Pacific. The ballistic missile was destroyed seven minutes after it was fired and was seen as successful test of a system designed to protect Japan from a missile attack, possibly with nuclear weapons, from North Korea.

A November 2008 test of Japan’s missile defense system failed. In waters off of Hawaii, a missile fired from an Aegis-equipped destroyer failed oi intercept a dummy ballistic missile. The SM-3 missile fired from the ship lost sight of the dummy missile just before it was supposed to hit it.

Spy Satellites in Japan

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In March 2003, Japan launched its first two spy satellites from Tanegashima Island off of Kyushu. They were launched with a H2A rocket and placed in polar orbit at altitudes of 400 to 600 kilometers. One of their main purposes is to keep an eye on North Korea and its nuclear reactors and missiles.

The satellites were made by a consortium of Japanese companies headed by Mitsubishi Electric and are part of a $2.1 billion public and private project.

Japan has launched its own spy satellites because it doesn’t want to rely on American satellites. Photos from American satellites are often expensive and delayed. Often times requests were turned down for security reasons. With their own satellites, Japan can get information whenever it wants.

The launch of a second set spy satellite in November 2003 was a failure. The satellites and rockets were destroyed because one of the two boosters failed to separate.

In February 2007, Japan put its 4th spy satellite into orbit, giving its satellite system full global coverage and allowing the Japanese military to survey the entire globe: to photograph any point on earth at least once a day. Of the four satellites two have optical sensors and two have synthetic aperture radar. The optical satellites can discern objects as small as on meter on the ground. There are plans to launch one in 2009 that can discern objects as small as 60 centimeters, compared to nine centimeters on the most advanced U.S. military satellites.

In November 2009, a spy satellite was launched whose primary mission was to keep an eye on military installations and other facilities in North Korea. The third of its kind, the satellite carries high quality resolution imaging capable of identifying objects on the ground as small as 60 centimeters. The total cost of the satellite and the launch was about $600 million.

Each of these four satellites is designed to orbit the earth 15 times and observe any location on earth at least once a day. Within a few years Japan hopes to have 16 to 20 spy satellites orbiting the earth.

The Japanese government is considering buying U.S. unmanned, high-latitude reconnaissance drones such as the RQ-4 Global Hawk---widely used in Pakistan and Afghanistan---to keep an eye on China and North Korea .

Japan Seeks New Fighter Aircraft

The bulwark of the Japanese Air Force is made up of aging American-made F-4EJ and F-15 fighters. The Japanese government is currently trying to decide which FX fighter plane to base it future air defense on: the U.S.-made FA-18E/F, the European-made Eurofighter or the experimental U.S.-made F-35. It is also considering fifth-generation fighters being developed in Russia and China.

The deal for new fighters is expected to involve 40 or 50 planes. The Japanese government really wants the stealthy American-built F-22 Raptor but the U.S. government doesn’t want to sell those out of concern about keeping its advanced technology secret. The F-35, an another advanced fighter, has been plagued by delays and cost overruns. The European have viewed these problems as opportunities to push their planes---particularly the Eurofighter Typhoon, a plane made by the European plane manufacturers British BAE Systes, the German-French EADS NV and Italy’s Finmeccania SpA. The Typhoon is not as good as an F-22 or F-35 but it is already in service (it was first test flown in 2004) and costs less than the American planes (about $100 million per plane), with the Europeans throwing in incentives such as allowing some of the parts of the plane to be made in Japan.

In September 2011, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported, three official bids to supply a next-generation fighter jet for use by the Air Self-Defense Force were submitted. The three models selected to replace the existing force of American-made F-4s are: 1) the F-35, which is being jointly developed by Britain, the United States and seven other countries; 2) the F/A-18E/F, which is manufactured by the United States; and 3) the Eurofighter, jointly developed by four European nations, including Britain and Germany. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, September 27, 2011]

Lockheed Martin Corp. of the United States is the main developer of the F-35, while another U.S. firm, Boeing Co., has led development of the F/A-18E/F. Britain's BAE Systems PLC has been at the forefront of the Eurofighter project.

Lockheed F-35 stealth fighters cost $65 million each. They have been described as fifth-generation fighter jets, with improved stealth capability that enables it to evade radar detection. However, they may not be available for delivery by Japan's target date of fiscal 2016, as cuts to U.S. defense spending have caused development delays. Also, Japanese companies would likely be unable to obtain licenses to manufacture the F-35, because the United States regards some of the main technology used in the aircraft as classified.

As for the F/A-18E/F, about 400 have already been introduced by the U.S. Navy, but some experts say its design is not as advanced as that of the F-35. The Eurofighter, meanwhile, has already been introduced in Britain and other countries. But the ASDF has never before used European-made fighter jets. Domestic production of both the F/A-18E/F and the Eurofighter would be allowed under license agreements.

The ministry reportedly plans to order about 40 fighter jets for delivery from fiscal 2016, with the purchase costs to be included in its fiscal 2012 budgetary requests. The government plans to hold a security council meeting in December to decide on the successor to the F-4, according to sources. The ministry will assess the three bids on the basis of factors including performance, price and the level of Japanese firms' involvement in manufacturing and maintenance, the sources said.

U.S.-Made F-35 Chosen for ASDF

In December 2011, the Japanese government officially selected the U.S.-made F-35 Lightning II as the Air-Self Defense Force's next-generation fighter plane to replace the aging fleet of F-4s. The Defense Ministry said it plans to purchase a total of 42 of the state-of-the-art jets, the first four of which will be delivered in fiscal 2016 with a price tag of $115 million each. Funding to purchase the four F-35s will be reflected in the defense budget starting in fiscal 2013. [Source: Natsuko Fukue, Japan Times, December 20, 2011]

Natsuko Fukue wrote in the Japan Times: “The F-35 "was evaluated the highest in terms of performance" compared with the other two candidates, Boeing Co.'s F/A-18 Super Hornet and the Eurofigher Typhoon developed by four European countries, Defense Minister Yasuo Ichikawa said. Out of the three jets under consideration, the F-35 has the most advanced technology and the best stealth capability, the ministry said. The interoperability of the F-35s with the ASDF's existing radar and weapon systems, most of which have been purchased from the United States, is believed to have been another key factor, and the importance of maintaining good bilateral relations with Washington is also thought to have played a role. [Ibid]

The ministry will demand that after the first four F-35s are delivered in 2016, the rest of the new fighters are to be assembled in Japan. Further negotiations will be held to establish the price of the planes to be assembled after 2016, the ministry said. Because the fighter is still being developed by an international consortium led by Lockheed Martin Corp., the price has only been agreed for the first four F-35s delivered, prompting concerns that the final cost may rise substantially and that the delivery schedule could be delayed. [Ibid]

The ministry has been desperately searching to find a replacement for the ASDF's out-dated fleet of F-4s to keep up with China and other Asian countries that have been beefing up and modernizing their air forces in recent years. The F-4s were used extensively during the Vietnam War by the U.S. Air Force. The government's selection was "understandable" given the F-35's high performance and Japan's close ties with the U.S., especially at a time when Tokyo is increasingly looking to Washington to contain China's growing might, said Narushige Michishita, an associate professor at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies and an expert on Japan's defense policy. [Ibid]

In January, China claimed that trial flights of its own stealth fighter, the J-20, were successful. "We're still not sure how China will act as a member of the international community," so buying a new fleet of fighter jets that remain interoperable with U.S.-made weapon systems was critical, Michishita said. [Ibid]

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Japan Considering Buying U.S. Spy Drones to Watch China and North Korea

In January 2013, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “The government has embarked on a plan to acquire the Global Hawk---a high-altitude, long-distance unmanned surveillance and reconnaissance aircraft---from the United States to enhance the Self-Defense Forces' ability to collect information, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned. The planned introduction of the cutting-edge drone would bolster Japan's intelligence capabilities, enabling it to more effectively cope with the increased pressure by China over the Senkaku Islands in Okinawa Prefecture, according to government and Liberal Democratic Party sources. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun. January 1, 2013]

The Global Hawk would also enhance the SDF's ability to gather information on North Korea, which has pushed ahead with programs to develop ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons, the sources said. Developed by U.S. defense contractor Northrop Grumman Corp., the Global Hawk can fly at a high altitude of about 18,000 meters, and is equipped with precision sensors and radar that can track suspicious vessels or gather intelligence. Unlike the Predator, which is armed with missiles and other weapons, the Global Hawk has no offensive capabilities, and specializes solely in intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance, or ISR. The 14.5-meter-long aircraft has a wingspan of about 40 meters, according U.S. Air Force data. [Ibid]

Introducing the Global Hawk, which is piloted remotely by a crew of three on the ground, would enable the SDF to fill loopholes in its surveillance capability, the sources noted, as the drone can fly continuously for more than 30 hours. In addition to security purposes, the aircraft could be used to collect information on radiation contamination, they said. [Ibid]

Weaknesses in the Japanese Military

Bernard Loo wrote in the Straits Times: “The Japanese Self-Defence Forces are, on paper, a fairly impressive organisation. Its air wing maintains a fleet of 130 F-15s, supported by E-2C and E-767 airborne-warning and command platforms that significantly add to its air combat capability. But the Japanese do not have intrinsic mid-air refuelling platforms and this limits their capacity to project air power very far beyond Japan's shores. Maritime self-defence forces deploy 39 guided-missile destroyers and nine guided-missile frigates supported by a small fleet of five logistics-support vessels - which further limits Japan's power-projection capability. [Source: Bernard Loo Straits Times, June 16, 2006]

Defense cuts and money spent on military personnel and supporting the U.S. military have hurt the ability of the Japanese military to modernize and address the increasing threats from China and North Korea. According to a Yomiuri Shimbun editorial: “The year-on-year cuts in defense spending have had a multitude of harmful effects, primarily because a great portion of defense spending is on so-called mandatory expenditures. These include personnel and food supply costs, which account for more than 40 percent of the entire defense budget; the "sympathy budget" to help cover the expenses of U.S. forces stationed in Japan; and years-long installment payments for equipment contracts. [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, October 8, 2011]

As a result, there tends to be pressure to curtail discretionary defense spending, which is about 14 percent of the defense budget. The Self-Defense Forces' acquisition of new equipment, including tanks, ships and aircraft, has been delayed across the board. In one example, the Defense Ministry has only managed to buy a very few state-of-art P-1 patrol planes, so the cost per airplane is higher than it would have been with a bulk purchase. Some out-of-date equipment has been remodeled to put off decommissioning, but repair costs have inevitably been rising because old equipment is prone to break down. Defense equipment is caught in a vicious circle.

Because of the lack of latitude in securing stockpiles of fighter components, it tends to take longer time to have fighters repaired. There have even been incidents of cannibalization, in which components are exchanged between disabled aircraft. As a result, the operation ratio of equipment has been declining, hindering the operational capabilities of SDF personnel. [Ibid]

March 11 Disaster Exposed Japan’s Military Reliance on Civilian Infrastructure

In February 2012, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported: “For a country to be disaster-resistant, its infrastructure must incorporate sufficient hardware and software--not only to prevent disasters before they occur, but also to minimize damage caused by them. The Great East Japan Earthquake was an opportunity for the Japanese public to once again be impressed with the effectiveness of the Self-Defense Forces acting in their role as infrastructure against a large-scale disaster. The SDF has spent about 10 million man-days on its response to the March 11 earthquake and tsunami. Many lessons have been learned, but the SDF has just begun putting what it has learned to good use. "Although the SDF provides personnel and equipment in emergency cases such as the Great East Japan Earthquake, the SDF cannot do its jobs without coordinating with the private sector and local governments," said GSDF Col. Naoki Yamane, commander of 7th Division. "We need to work closely with them." [Source: Yomiuri Shimbun, February 2, 2012]

The capabilities required by the SDF to respond to a large-scale disaster do not really differ to those when responding to a military contingency. When it reacted to the disaster, the SDF considered it a quasi-contingency, but found many inadequacies in its equipment. When SDF ships were mobilized to search for missing people or transport relief goods in the wake of the disaster, U.S. military ships and Japanese civilian ferries were responsible for transporting SDF troops in Hokkaido and other places to areas devastated by the disaster. In just one month after the disaster, civilian ferries transported a total of over 12,000 SDF members and 4,000 vehicles. [Ibid]

However, civilian ferries face many restrictions concerning their use. For instance, rules on the transport and storage of dangerous materials on ships--an ordinance by the Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism Ministry--say that a limited number of people are allowed aboard when a ship transports fuel. A special exception was made after the disaster so that huge amounts of fuel and troops were allowed to be on ferries at the same time. There is also no guarantee that a sufficient number of civilian ferries will be available during the course of an emergency. "Since the number of ferries is decreasing [in Japan], we have to leave it to luck as to whether any will be available to work with the SDF when necessary," said MOL Ferry Co. President Osamu Suzuki, who is also chairman of the Japan Long Course Ferry Service Association. [Ibid]

Given that there are no prospects for a dramatic increase in defense spending, people from both the ministry and private sector have urged for tax incentives or similar measures to secure private ships in an emergency situation. However, the idea has not yet been fleshed out. The ministry's draft report on lessons learned from its responses to the disaster once stipulated a policy of demanding revision of relevant laws and rules to facilitate SDF actions in case of an emergency. But, the ministry later backed down in part, instead saying that "the possible revision should be discussed again with the Prime Minister's Office and the concerned ministries.” [Ibid]

Moving Tanks on a Private Ferry

In November 2011, tanks stationed in Hokkaido were moved to Kyushu to address changing focus of military strategy away from Cold War threat from Russia to a newer threat from China . A total of 90 military vehicles including four 40-ton Type 90 tanks were moved. The Ground Self-Defense Force tanks and armored vehicles were carried by a chartered private ferry and JR cargo trains from Hokkaido to Oita Prefecture in Kyushu.

Type 90 battle tanks were basically developed to handle possible battles with Soviet forces, and were deployed only in Hokkaido. The huge vehicles weigh 50 tons and are 9.8 meters long, and were developed for combat in wild terrain. Together with the Type 89 infantry combat vehicles, the Type 90 tanks were be transported from Tomakomai Port in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, to Oita Port in Oita Prefecture aboard the chartered Natchan World catamaran ferry. The 10,715-ton high-speed vessel is operated by Tsugarukaikyo Ferry Co., based in Hakodate, Hokkaido. After the March 11 Great East Japan Earthquake, the ferry was used to transport SDF members and emergency relief materials. The Type 73 armored personnel carriers will be transported by Japan Freight Railway Co. freight trains from Sapporo Freight Terminal Station to Nishi-Oita Station in Oita.

Image Sources: Defence Talk.com

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Daily Yomiuri, Times of London, Japan National Tourist Organization (JNTO), National Geographic, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, Lonely Planet Guides, Compton’s Encyclopedia and various books and other publications.

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© 2009 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated January 2013

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