China’s large military buildup means Japan must boost defense capabilities

China’s military buildup has brought about a major change in the military balance in East Asia. To strengthen the framework of the Japan-U.S. alliance, it is necessary for Japan itself to steadily enhance its defense capabilities.

The Defense Ministry’s budgetary request for fiscal 2022 came to ¥5.4797 trillion, up 2.6% from the fiscal 2021 initial budget. If approved, it will be the 10th consecutive annual increase.

Based on the increasing severity of the security situation, the ministry’s budget request is characterized by the acceleration of the acquisition of key military equipment. The ministry requested the procurement of 12 F-35 stealth fighter jets, twice the number of the previous year, and made its first-ever request for SM-6 long-range anti-aircraft missiles that can intercept cruise missiles.

China has deployed a large number of high-performance medium-range missiles and is increasingly confident of its strategy to prevent U.S. military intervention.

In particular, hypersonic glide vehicles under development fly at more than five times the speed of sound, making it difficult to intercept them with the current missile defense network of Japan and the United States, which relies on ground-based radar.

The Defense Ministry has said that it is expediting a scheme to detect the hypersonic glide vehicles with a satellite constellation, a defense system that requires launching a large number of small satellites. The government needs to deepen cooperation with the U.S. military in this respect.

On the other hand, the ministry did not request the allocation of construction costs for Aegis-equipped vessels, which will replace the land-based Aegis Ashore missile interception system. It said that more time is needed for detailed design, and delays in the construction plan are inevitable.

In order for the Japan-U.S. alliance to maintain peace and stability in the region, it is important for the government to thoroughly examine at the National Security Council what role the Self-Defense Forces will play in the future, and reflect this in the improvement of Japan’s defense capabilities.

In the past, Japan and the United States have shared roles. The SDF has focused on Japan’s defense and relied on the U.S. military for offensive capabilities. Even following this basic structure, Japan will face the challenge of playing a more active role than before, in order for Japan and the United States to work together to enhance deterrence.

Discussions should be promoted on such issues as a new policy to block missiles, including consideration of possessing the capability to attack enemy bases, and counterattacks against cyber-attacks.

The Defense Ministry has said that it plans to reinforce its units to deal with outer space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum. The threats in these new areas have extended not only to defense facilities but to the nation’s entire infrastructure, including transportation and communications. The ministry should consider reinforcing these areas, taking into account strengthening Japan’s comprehensive response capabilities, including cooperation between defense and police forces.

The request for research and development costs has also increased significantly. China and other countries are hastily diverting their advanced civilian technologies, such as artificial intelligence, to military use. It is also an urgent task for Japan to expand the range of technological applications.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Sept. 7, 2021.