Tokyo Report | East Asia

Japan’s Emerging ‘Multi-Domain Defense Force’

Japan’s new defense budget foresees cross-domain operations in space, cyberspace, and electromagnetic domains.

By Daisuke Akimoto for
Japan’s Emerging ‘Multi-Domain Defense Force’
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/ mosiase

Ever since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came back to power in 2012, Japan’s annual defense expenditure has been on the increase. Japan’s defense budget spending plan for fiscal year (FY) 2020 reached a record high of 5.07 trillion yen ($47 billion), up from 4.65 trillion in FY2012. The figure does not include the Special Actions Committee on Okinawa (SACO) related expenditure; with that added in, Japan’s defense-related budget for FY2020 would amount to 5.31 trillion yen.

The increase in its defense expenditure represents Japan’s military normalization. Some observers might consider it to be part of Japan’s “security renaissance” as Professor Andrew Oros described, or the emergency of the “Abe Doctrine” for Japan’s security strategy. Whereas opposition parties criticize the increase of defense spending, the Trump administration in the United States might find it insufficient in terms of defense cooperation and burden sharing under the bilateral military alliance. Amid the competing narratives, it important to figure out the main purpose and defense priorities of Japan’s annual defense programs and budget for FY2020.

According to the Abe government, the main purpose is to build up an effective defense capability, the “Multi-Domain Defense Force” (tajigen tōgō bōeiryoku), on the basis of the “Medium Term Defense Program” (MTDP) (FY2019-FY2023) approved by the Cabinet decision of December 18, 2018.

In order to conduct “cross-domain operations,” the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) plan to acquire and improve its defense capabilities in new fields, such as space, cyberspace, and the electromagnetic spectrum, by cultivating experts and making the best of new research in science and technology. Furthermore, the SDF will enhance its conventional defense capabilities in the maritime and air domains, stand-off defense capability, comprehensive air and missile defense capability, as well as maneuver and deployment capability so that the SDF can smoothly conduct cross-domain operations. The three new defense priorities are as follows.

First, the MOD plans to spend 50.6 billion yen for a “space-related budget” in FY2020. This figure excludes the budget of 52.3 billion yen for missile defense system allocated for outer space. Notably, the MOD has sought to establish a tentatively-named “Space Operations Squadron” with some 20 personnel in the Air Self-Defense Forces (ASDF) in order to secure Japan’s superiority in utilizing outer space. Also, the “Space Domain Planning Section” (another tentative name) will be established inside the Joint Staff. The MOD moreover devotes 22.3 billion yen to secure the stable use of outer space; 4.3 billion yen to strengthen information-gathering capability by using outer space, 13.7 billion yen to utilize satellite communications, 10.0 billion yen to utilize data from imagery satellites, and 130 million yen to take other appropriate measures related to space policy, such as dispatching personnel for training in the space operations course provided in the U.S. Air Force Base in Colorado. Significantly, given Tokyo’s plans, Japan and the United States could be the first alliance to conduct military cooperation in outer space.

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Second, the MOD plans to use 25.6 billion yen for beefing up defense capabilities in the cyber domain. Japan’s vulnerability to cyberattacks and the lack of systematic cybersecurity policy are often referred to as the “Achilles heel” in Japan’s defense program. This year, the MOD will increase the number of staff in the “Cyber Defense Group” from 220 to 290, and establish a “Cyber Protection Unit” (tentative name) inside the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF). The Japanese Defense Ministry will utilize cutting-edge technology in the field of cybersecurity by procuring a “Cyber Information Gathering System” with 3.4 billion yen, designing an “AI-enabled system to respond against cyberattack” with 30 million yen, and researching the security of network devices in the so-called 5G era with 20 million yen. The MOD will attempt to secure and develop a cyber workforce by dispatching SDF personnel to U.S. Cyber Commander Education Courses (a budgeted cost of 40 million yen), developing a posture of internal knowledge and skills on cyber, hosting a cyber completion tentatively named “MOD-CTF” (4 million yen), improving the “Defense Information Infrastructure” (7.6 billion yen), and enhancing “Controllability and Situation Awareness of System Network” (1.2 billion yen).

Third, the Japanese Defense Ministry will spend its budget to strengthen defense capabilities in the “electromagnetic domain.” Indeed, the MOD has made efforts to acquire “electromagnetic warfare” (EW) capabilities, and conducted research and development of equipment for neutralizing the radar of an opponent invading Japan. The MOD plans to spend 15 billion yen to develop “Stand-off Electronic Warfare Aircraft” and another 3.8 billion yen to conduct research on an “Anti-air Electronic Warfare Device” to neutralize the radar of invading aircraft by emitting radio waves from the ground. More specifically, the Defense Ministry intends to procure three F-35A fighter aircraft for 28.1 billion yen, spending another 37.4 billion yen for their maintenance; procure six F-35B fighters for 79.3 billion yen with another 23.5 billion yen for maintenance; and acquire “Network Electronic Warfare System” to analyze signals and jam communication for 10 billion yen. The MOD moreover will try to strengthen its intelligence capability related to the electromagnetic spectrum by conducting research on “Upgrading Radio Wave Information Collecting Device for Vessels” with 600 million yen, and to improve its electromagnetic spectrum management capability by visualizing usage of electromagnetic spectrum resources with 900 million yen. The SDF will devote 2.6 billion yen to enhance its posture of communication and information sharing by improving the “Maritime Tactical Intelligence Processing System” and 5.9 billion yen to strengthening its “Tactical Datalink.” Furthermore, the MOD will spend 100 million yen for a verification test of the protection of SDF facilities against “Electromagnetic Pulse” (EMP) attacks.

Needless to say, as well as these defense priorities, the Japanese Defense Ministry will build up its capabilities in traditional domains, particularly the maritime and air domains. The SDF is expected to strengthen its defense posture for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR). The SDF is also required to improve its “Comprehensive Air and Missile Defense Capability.” Significantly, the BMD-related budget alone amounts to 116.3 billion yen. Moreover, the MOD emphasized the importance of cutting-edge and “game-changing technology,” such as an AI-powered defense system.

Prime Minister Abe previously mentioned that his administration would not limit Japan’s defense expenditure to 1 percent of the country’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and defense spending has steadily increased year by year. In this respect, Japan’s defense programs and budget for FY2020 signify the implementation of the Abe Doctrine. Japan’s emerging Multi-Domain Defense Force covering the space, cyberspace, and electromagnetic spectrum domains symbolizes the Japan’s ongoing security renaissance amid the changing security environment surrounding Japan and around the globe.

Daisuke Akimoto is Associated Research Fellow of the Institute for Security and Development Policy (ISDP), Stockholm Japan Center, Sweden. He currently serves as Official Secretary in the House of Representatives, Japan. His most recent publication is “The Abe Doctrine: Japan’s Proactive Pacifism and Security Strategy” (Palgrave Macmillan, 2018). His views are his own and do not represent the House of Representatives or the Japanese government.