Shinzo Abe’s government will expand the scope and technical abilities of its self defense force after the adoption of a new defense program aimed at meeting new challenges from longtime regional rivals.
While the Japanese constitution limits her armed forces to self defense and humanitarian missions, on Tuesday, the government adopted a revised National Defense Program Guideline and a new Mid-Term Defense Program stipulating the introduction of top-of-the-line F-35B stealth fighter jets, and the conversion of the Izumo-class destroyers to be used as aircraft carriers.
Once converted the Izumo class ships will be Japan’s first carriers since the end of the Second World War.
Meeting Regional Challenges
According to the defense documents, the measures taken by the government are due to an increasingly assertive Russia and China.
“The United States remains the world’s most powerful nation, but national rivalries are surfacing and we recognise the importance of the strategic competition with both China and Russia as they challenge the regional order,” said the new defense program outline.
China has in recent years taken steps to modernize and expand its navy.
China currently has one carrier in operations, a refurbished Soviet era ship renamed the Liaoning. Beijing has since launched a new native-built aircraft carrier with more in the pipeline. The country has also built additional bases in the heavily contested South China Sea and has the world’s largest maritime militia. (A full assessment of China’s maritime forces can be found here)
The United States’ draw-down on the Korean Peninsula with a rapprochement between Seoul and Pyongyang has Japan apprehensive about its position with North Korea (which sees Japan as a historical foe).
With Japan’s home island within range of nuclear tipped missiles from North Korea, Abe’s government has asked for a cautious approach when dealing with Kim Jong-un’s regime.
Trump’s scaled-back rhetoric on defense means that Russia has grown more bold on its Eastern border. Russian planes regularly patrol the East China Sea and Moscow has built new bases on islands that it captured from Japan at the end of the second world war.
In response to the changing diplomatic landscape, the Japanese government approved on Tuesday, a policy of introducing 105 top-of-the-line F-35 stealth fighter jets to replace about 100 F-15 main fighter jets that are now in service but deemed difficult to modify. The scale of the related budget is estimated to be in excess of ¥1 trillion.
When combined with the 42 F-35A fighter jets that are being introduced, the number of F-35 fighter jets will rise to 147.
Of the aircraft to be additionally introduced, there will be 63 F-35A jets, which use regular runways, and 42 F-35B jets, which are capable of short-field takeoffs and vertical landings, and can be mounted aboard the Izumo-class carriers. Eighteen F-35B jets are scheduled to be introduced under the latest mid-term program.
The programs also stipulate boosting of self-defense capabilities in such new domains as outer space and cyberspace.