Defense Perspective: Proposals / Cooperation with private sector key to enhancing defense-related tech

Yomiuri Shimbun file photo
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is seen aboard the Maritime Self-Defense Force Izumo-class destroyer in Sagami Bay, off the coast of Kanagawa Prefecture, on Nov. 6.

The government will by the end of this year revise three key security-related documents — the National Security Strategy, the National Defense Program Guidelines, and the Mid-term Defense Program — aiming to significantly strengthen the nation’s defense capabilities. What must be done before this major change in Japan’s postwar security policy? The Yomiuri Shimbun will present its proposals in this series.


China is constantly attempting to unilaterally change the status quo in the East China and South China Seas; North Korea is conducting missile tests with extraordinary frequency; and Russia has invaded Ukraine. All these countries are Japan’s neighbors. As the United States and China vie for supremacy, Japan finds itself standing on the front line of this rivalry and heading toward “the age of a new crisis.”

“Japan’s security environment is the most severe in the world,” said Katsutoshi Kawano, former chief of staff, Joint Staff of the Self-Defense Forces. Strengthening Japan’s defense capabilities is a must for protecting the nation’s peace and stability.

Comprehensive national strength is the foundation of the nation’s defense capabilities. Bolstering this national strength, including economic power and science and technology capabilities, will be essential. The government must spare no effort when working together with the business sector and academia to achieve this.

The boundary between civilian and military applications blurs when it comes to advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and quantum technology. These days, dual-use technologies have become mainstream. Major powers such as the United States and China believe that superiority in cutting-edge technologies determines a nation’s strength, and their industry, government and academic sectors work together to gain an edge. Investment in high-tech research that contributes to national defense can also be used in the private sector and has the potential to be an engine for economic growth.

The U.S. Defense Department’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) invests in high-risk research projects that the private sector would shy away from. DARPA has been behind the creation of revolutionary technologies such as the internet and the Global Positioning System. The department’s Defense Innovation Unit has offices in locations such as Silicon Valley and focuses on uncovering commercial-sector technologies that could be used to address national security challenges.

Technologies adopted by the military get refined when put into practical use and then flow back to the private sector. Such a cycle has helped to enhance the national strength of the United States.

Japan developed into an economic superpower when the public and private sectors worked together during the postwar reconstruction period and the period of high economic growth. The government and private sector must again work hand in hand to establish the nation’s comprehensive security framework. This also will contribute to the government’s stated goal of making Japan a science and technology nation for the new age.

Off-campus research centers

Collaborations between the government and academia in advanced defense-related technologies have been few and far between because the Science Council of Japan has consistently opposed the involvement of its scientists in defense research.

An opinion long-held in the Japanese academic sector is that scientists were made to participate in the war effort during World War II.

“There is a trend in academia that research should not be intertwined with defense,” Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has said to people in his circle.

When Takayuki Kobayashi served as minister of state for science and technology policy, which oversees the Science Council, he emphasized the need for the government and academia to work together to enhance the nation’s strength in a meeting with Science Council President Takaaki Kajita.

“Japan’s scientific and technological capabilities are rapidly declining,” Kobayashi said. “We must reverse this trend and increase the influence of the academic sector.”

In late July, the council expressed its view that it would accept “dual use” advanced research for both the private sector and national defense in practice. However, a senior council member said, “It’s hard to accept something that clearly has to do with the defense field.”

Japan’s science and technology budget is more than ¥4 trillion a year, about 50% of which goes to the Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology Ministry. The defense minister is not a member of the government’s Council for Science, Technology and Innovation, which is responsible for budget allocation.

There is an urgent need to establish a mechanism such as a cross-ministry council so that the Defense Ministry and the National Security Secretariat can be involved in allocating science and technology budgets.

Offering financial support to universities that actively pursue research in defense-related fields is also an option.

Establishing research centers outside universities could be a good way to utilize talented personnel in dual-use projects. The key advantage of off-campus facilities is that research can be conducted securely, in locations without international students.

Efforts must be made to protect the affluent lives of people in Japan. Unless we do our utmost to realize this goal, we will not be able to truly strengthen our defense capabilities and economic might.