Japan to establish research institute to boost defense technology

Courtesy of Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency
An image of a next-generation fighter jet that the Defense Ministry plans to develop

The government plans to establish a research institute in fiscal 2024 at the earliest to utilize cutting-edge technologies developed by the private sector in the defense field, according to government sources.

The new institute, which will be part of the Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency, will identify research in technologies expected to be vital to the future of warfare, in such fields as artificial intelligence and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The institute will aim to link research on advanced technologies that can be used for both defense and civilian purposes in the development of equipment.

Active use of advanced technologies for both military and civilian purposes is common overseas, but a sense of aversion to the defense field persists in Japanese academic circles.

Because public-private research cooperation has not made as much progress in Japan, compared to the United States, China and other countries, the government decided a specialized organization backed by the state was needed to make up the gap.

The new institute will be modeled after the U.S. Department of Defense’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and Defense Innovation Unit (DIU).

The roots of the internet and the Global Positioning System can be traced back to DARPA, which has been involved in supporting the kind of high-risk research that struggles to attract private investment.

The DIU has served as a bridge between the U.S. Department of Defense and the private sector, contributing to the discovery of civilian technologies utilized in the cyber field and unmanned aerial vehicles.

The new institute is expected to provide medium- to long-term research funding to a wide range of companies, research institutes, and universities — from large corporations to start-ups.

In addition to public solicitations, there are expectations that the private sector will also approach the institution for support. The goal is to provide support amounting to about ¥1 trillion annually.

The Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency’s national security technology research promotion program subsidizes private-sector research, but its budget is only about ¥10 billion per year, and the period of the subsidy is usually limited to two or three years.

As the program has not achieved any significant results, the new research institute is expected to provide support over a longer period.

Priority fields for support will include AI, drones, quantum technology and electromagnetic waves. The United States and China are fiercely competing for dominance in these fields, which have the potential to drastically change warfare.

The government intends to focus on technological development to strengthen the deterrence of the Japan-U.S. alliance.

The agency will have technical officers who will serve as project managers, responsible for research plans, budgets and quality control, and providing advice to researchers. Some of the project managers are expected to be appointed from the private sector.

The technical officers will also seek out research that has the potential to be commercialized at an early stage and lobby for support, serving as liaisons between the agency and major companies in defense industries to realize mass production of equipment.