F-35, Osprey Enhanced by Japan’s National Security Strategy

Japan’s first national security strategy outlines goals that U.S. defense technology will be crucial for achieving.

Japan’s new defense and national security documents suggest Tokyo will focus much of its procurement efforts on securing the most advanced U.S. defense technologies.

Two of the three main pillars of Japan’s first ever national security strategy are enhancing Japan’s defense and diplomatic capabilities, and strengthening and expanding the U.S.-Japan alliance. The strategy suggests that cooperation in defense technologies will be at the center of these efforts. Specifically, the document states: “in order to strengthen the foundation of the Alliance, including enhanced interoperability, Japan will advance multilayered initiatives with the U.S. such as defense equipment and technology cooperation and personnel exchanges.”

The just released National Defense Program Guidelines also emphasize the need for Japan to focus on procuring cutting edge military capabilities to grapple with what Tokyo is calling the increasingly severe security situation in the Asia-Pacific. Thus, the document stresses that “Japan will continue to secure defense capabilities adequate both in quantity and quality to underpin the various activities” required of its Self Defense Forces (SDF). It goes on to state:

“Japan will build a Dynamic Joint Defense Force, placing emphasis on developing advanced technology and information, command and communications capabilities and achieving readiness, mobility, flexibility, sustainability, robustness and connectivity in terms of both tangible and intangible resources while giving consideration to the establishment of broad infrastructure for logistical support.”

Later in the document the Ministry of Defense outlines a number of functions and capabilities that will receive outside attention from the SDFs in the years ahead, while “taking into account of enhancing joint functions in consideration of the interoperability with the U.S. military.” These include enhancing Japan’s Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities, Transport Capacity, command and control, and information and communications capabilities, response to an attack on remote islands, and ballistic missile attacks, among other areas. Other areas of the document expressed the necessity of gaining and maintaining air superiority to enhance deterrence.

All of this augurs well for U.S. defense companies, who are likely to be shipping significant quantities of their products to Japan in the coming years. In reviewing a larger defense document also released this week, DOD Buzz reports that “Under the plan, Japan would spend $240 billion over the next five years on new equipment for the military to include 17 MV-22 Ospreys, 28 F-35 fighters, three unarmed Global Hawk drones and 52 amphibious troop carriers to shore up the offensive capability of its Self-Defense Forces.”

All of these capabilities are consistent with the areas the National Defense Program Guidelines stated would be emphasized. For example, the MV-22 Osprey will significantly enhance Japan’s ability to transport larger quantities of men and supplies to contingency areas in a timely manner. Meanwhile, the three unarmed Global Hawk drones will give Japan greater ISR capabilities over longer ranges. They will almost certainly focus first and foremost on the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands that Japan disputes with China. The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter will enable Japan to establish and maintain air superiority over crucial areas surrounding the country, while the amphibious troop carriers will enhance Japan’s ability to respond to an attack on remote islands.

In general, acquiring U.S. defense technology in these crucial areas is also consistent with Japan’s goals of achieving greater interoperability with the U.S. military and reducing the impact America’s troop deployments in Japan have on the local population.

In late 2011, Japan signed on as the first international partner on the F-35 JSF project, which was a symbolically and technically crucial decision. This purchase will have significant implications for the strength of U.S.-Japanese military cooperation. As Robbin Laird has explained on The Diplomat, “understanding the real value of the F-35 one must consider its operation as a fleet, not simply as an individual aircraft.”

That’s because “What is radically new about the F-35 is the fusion of data in the cockpit and the shaping of a new decision making capability within the aircraft and the fleet.  The aircraft permits situational decision-making, not just situational awareness.” As a result, a fleet of F-35s can operate miles away from each other like the F-22, but differs from the F-22 in that “the individual airplanes are interconnected, operate in 360-degree operational space, and the machines pass the data throughout the network.”

Japan has plans to purchase 42 F-35s by 2021, although some reports have suggested that the deflationary pressures on the yen because of Abenomics’ aggressive monetary policies might force Tokyo to delay this purchase by a couple of years. The new commitment to buy 28 F-35s over the next 5 years suggests that Japan will likely meet or come close to meeting its 2021 target of 42 aircraft.

The Joint Strike Fighter project could use all the international buyers it can get as it struggles with enormous cost overruns. A new report from the Rand Corporation finds that joint aircraft programs have historically not lowered Life Cycle Costs (LCC), and may increase these costs, undermining a core rationale for pursuing these over single-service program. The report estimates that, based on current projections, the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter program will be consistent with this historical pattern.