Japan’s Ministry of Defense has begun preparing a new Midterm Defense Plan (MTDP), the five-year plan that guides Japanese defense projects and acquisitions. While the new plan looks similar to its predecessors, proposed capabilities target emerging domains considered essential to high-end warfare. This makes the plan the most consequential MTDP in a long time, especially for the US-Japan alliance.
A June 2017 Diet Security Committee report calls for an ambitious plan with new capabilities, such as cyber security, space assets, amphibious vehicles, improved integrated missile defense, and cruise missiles capable of striking ground targets.
Defense Minister Onodera’s announcement on March 2 that the ministry is studying F-35B takeoff and landing operations on Izumo-class carriers has raised eyebrows in friendly and rival nations alike; even the mention of carrier-based fighter operations was unthinkable 10 years ago, a reflection of how a worsening Indo-Pacific security situation has affected Japanese security thinking.
Vital questions hang over these options. Are these capabilities right for Japan? Will they be worth the considerable cost? First, the draft plan should be viewed as an attempt to improve defense needs despite budgetary realities, and not as an attempt to reconcile defense desires with available funds. In other words, the proposals could be described as a laundry list of desired capabilities that Japan may not be able to afford right now, or as capabilities that Japan wants to reduce its dependence on the US.
Through this lens, the proposed capabilities do support enhanced bilateral deterrence, maritime security, and air and missile defense, all of which are major themes in the US-Japan Guidelines for Cooperative Defense – but only if the budget can be reconciled.
The government’s seriousness about defense indicates there is the political will to spend more. Since taking office, the Abe administration has ordered two revised National Defense Program Guidelines, revised the US-Japan Guidelines for Cooperative Defense, spearheaded the 2015 Legislation for Peace and Security, and recently pledged to amend Article IX of the Constitution to codify the Self-Defense Force’s existence. Numerous Japanese acquisitions in the same timespan have also clearly favored US-Japan bilateral cooperation. (end of excerpt)
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