National / Politics

Japan's new defense guidelines will outline plans for more cohesive and flexible 'multidimensional' force

Kyodo, JIJI

Japan plans to call for the building of “multidimensional” defense capabilities in the next version of its national defense plan amid security challenges in new domains such as cyberspace and outer space, government sources said Thursday.

Under the concept of the “multidimensional joint defense force,” to be included in the next version of the National Defense Program Guidelines, Japan plans to create a “truly effective defense force” capable of carrying out “flexible and strategic activities” in “every stage from peacetime to contingency,” according to the sources.

It will replace the idea of calling for the development of a “dynamic joint defense force” that is included in the current national program, which was revised and adopted in 2013.

The new concept has emerged as Japan increasingly recognizes that it needs to conduct “cross-domain” operations, rather than have ground, marine and air forces separately dealing with new types of threats posed by technological advancement and China’s military build-up.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has said earlier that the new defense guidelines, which the government hopes to approve Tuesday, should bring about reform “at a speed drastically different from the past” and that the government should not stick to the idea that the SDF are made up of three divisions comprising land, sea and air components.

“We cannot respond enough with the existing framework,” a senior Defense Ministry official said.

One of the specific changes to be made to strengthen the cohesion of the Self-Defense Forces is the formation of a unit binding together the functions of existing cyberspace and marine transportation teams that is not attached to the ground, marine or air forces, according to the sources.

The guidelines set out the country’s defense capability targets over a span of about 10 years.

Along with the guidelines, the Cabinet is set to adopt the Midterm Defense Program, which specifies a five-year defense spending and procurement plan.

In the program from fiscal 2019, the government is mulling setting the budget at a record level of over ¥27 trillion, according to informed sources.

The amount will be up from the planned spending level of about ¥24.67 trillion for the current program covering fiscal 2014 to fiscal 2018.

Under a draft outline of the guidelines, officials said earlier this week the government plans to upgrade its Izumo helicopter carrier to enable it to transport and launch fighter jets.

The plan is controversial as it is seen as Japan effectively seeking to own an aircraft carrier for the first time under its pacifist Constitution.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and its junior coalition partner Komeito, known for its dovish stance on security issues, agreed on the same day that the conversion of Izumo would not lead Japan to possess abilities that would exceed the limits of the country’s exclusively defense-oriented policy.

The LDP had earlier proposed to the government that Japan should introduce a “multipurpose defensive aircraft carrier,” but the government has decided not to use the description “aircraft carrier” apparently due to its sensitivity. In the new guidelines, the government is expected to call the updated Izumo a “multipurpose destroyer.”

Under the postwar Constitution, the government has maintained it cannot possess “attack aircraft carriers” as they are among what can be deemed offensive weapons exceeding what is necessary for self-defense.

Among other points, the government is seeking to introduce F-35B stealth fighter jets, which are capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings, to deploy them on the carrier.

The Izumo-class 19,500-ton carriers, which also includes the Kaga, are 248 meters long and can carry up to 14 helicopters. They are the country’s largest postwar naval vessels.