Japan: The new military power


Despite a constitution that still calls for Japan to abjure all military force, Tokyo is increasingly in command of one of the most powerful military machines in the world. Its weapons research development is also setting the pace in some areas.

The Japan Self-Defense Forces, established in 1954, ranks as the world’s fourth most-powerful military in conventional capabilities with the eighth-largest military budget. In recent years they engaged in international operations including UN peacekeeping.

Typical of Tokyo’s new military is a new highly trained and equipped amphibious rapid deployment brigade — to have more than 3,000 trained by March — which has just run a joint exercise with U.S. forces.

Rising Cold War tensions in Europe and Asia, coupled with leftist-inspired strikes and demonstrations in Japan, prompted conservative leaders to question the unilateral renunciation of all military capabilities in its surrender treaty with the U.S. and its allies in World War II. When American Occupation troops began to be moved to the Korean War (1950–53) theater, Japan was left virtually defenseless, vulnerable, and very much aware of the need to enter into a mutual defense relationship with the United States.

Encouraged by the American occupation authorities, the Japanese government in July 1950 authorized the establishment of a National Police Reserve, consisting of 75,000 men equipped with light infantry weapons. In 1952, Coastal Safety Force the waterborne counterpart of NPR, was founded. In 2006, the Cabinet of Japan endorsed a bill elevating the Defense Agency under the Cabinet Office to full-fledged cabinet-level Ministry of Defense. This was passed by the National Diet in December 2006, and has been enforced since 2007.

In January 9, 2007, JSDF activities abroad was revised from “miscellaneous regulations” to “basic duties” fundamentally changing the nature of the JSDF because its activities are no longer solely defensive. JMSDF ships can be dispatched worldwide such as in activities against pirates. The JSDF’s first postwar overseas base was established in Djibouti, Somalia in 2010.

Japan and the United States conducted their biggest military exercise in the biennial Keen Sword from 29 October to 2 November 2018 including a total of 57,000 sailors, marines and airmen. Some 47,000 service members were from the JSDF and 10,000 from the U.S. Armed Forces. A naval supply ship and frigate of the Royal Canadian Navy also participated in simulations of air combat, ballistic missile defense and amphibious landings.

In 2004, at the behest of the United States, the Japanese government ordered a deployment of troops to Iraq in order to assist the U.S.-led Reconstruction of Iraq. This controversial deployment marked a significant turning point as the first time since the end of World War II that Japan had sent troops abroad except for a few minor UN peacekeeping deployments. Public opinion was sharply divided

In December 2018, the Japanese government approved an initial budget plan for fiscal 2019 that includes a general account exceeding 100 trillion yen ($900 billion) and spending on tax-hike preparations.

There is no secret about what motivates Japanese policy to turn its back on the postwar professions of neutrality and rejection of any military establishment. It is the growing perceived threat from Communist China.

In addition to conventional weaponry, the defense budget for fiscal year 2018 included funds to purchase mid- to long-range air-launched cruise missiles. Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera maintained they would be used exclusively for defense as “stand-off missiles that can be fired beyond the range of enemy threats.” But the budget allocated another 2.2 billion yen ($20 million) for the purchase of Joint Strike Missile for its F-35A stealth fighters and 30 million yen ($270,000) for research on modifying existing Japanese Mitsubishi F-15J fighters to be equipped with Long-Range Anti-Ship Missiles and extended-range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles.

The Ministry of Defense is developing supersonic glide bombs to strengthen the defense of Japan‘s remote islands, including the Senkaku Islands [which lie between Japan and the Korean Peninsular]. The anti-surface strike capability will be used to help the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade’s landing and recapture operations on other more remote islands. Japan’s Defense Ministry has also allocated $57 million for research and development of a hypersonic missile which could travel five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) or faster. A scramjet engine prototype, jet fuel technology and heat-resistant materials will be built with testing from 2023 to 2025.

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