Please view the main text area of the page by skipping the main menu.

New defense guidelines prioritize cross-domain defense strategy to target cyber warfare

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, center in the left row, speaks at a meeting of a defense panel at the prime minister's office on Dec. 11, 2018. (Mainichi/Masahiro Kawata)

TOKYO -- Proposed new defense program guidelines underscore the need for a cross-domain strategy to respond to space, cyber and electronic warfare.

However, Japan, which experts point out lags behind other developed countries in these fields, is likely to repeat its trial and error approach.

Under the new policy, the government will strive to strengthen Japan's capabilities to respond to such new types of warfare, while deepening the country's highly effective and integrated defense capabilities particularly in southwestern Japan, as called for in the current defense guidelines. Other developed countries are rapidly improving their capabilities in such new warfare systems.

"We must completely rid ourselves of our old ideas based on the existing division of ground, sea and air defense and carry out reform at an unprecedented speed," Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a meeting of a panel of experts on defense policies on Dec. 11.

A draft of the new National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG), unveiled on Dec. 11, states that Japan will strive to "secure an advantage in space, cyberspace and electromagnetic waves and establish a cross-domain defense system." It then calls for the establishment of a new unit specializing in space defense, the expansion of the cyber defense unit and improvements in utilizing electromagnetic waves.

With the advancement of communications technology, a large amount of modern defense equipment enables troops to obtain information on enemies through communications networks. Attacks on communications networks and electric power grids and other infrastructure supporting such networks would hinder troop operations.

In a speech in November, former Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera pointed out that Russian forces lowered Ukrainian forces' capabilities by jamming their GPS and caused glitches in their electronic fuses in the 2014 Ukrainian crisis. He then emphasized that current warfare is completely different from what ordinary people imagine, underscoring the need to have cross-domain defense capabilities.

However, it is difficult to identify those who have launched cyber-attacks. Moreover, the government has not held in-depth discussions on which specific forms of attacks Japan is legally allowed to exercise the right to self-defense for under the pacifist Constitution.

In the field of space defense, the draft of the NDPG only mentions the introduction of a land-based surveillance system among others. In the field of electromagnetic radio waves, the draft only points to the need for research and development with the aim of introducing devices for electronic warfare equipped with capabilities to jam enemies' radars and communications.

However, how to keep consistency between the introduction of such equipment in these new fields and Japan's defense-only policy will certainly pose a challenge.

-- Komeito trying to place restrictions on use of aircraft carriers

Komeito, the junior coalition partner of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), has emphasized that it has put the brakes on the use of Izumo-class helicopters, which the government has decided to virtually remodel into aircraft carriers, ahead of an April 2019 nationwide local election and a House of Councillors election in summer 2019. Komeito supporters are particularly sensitive about issues related to the war-renouncing Constitution.

Shigeki Sato, Komeito's chief election strategist who also serves as deputy chair of the ruling coalition's working team on the issue, has emphasized that the move is within the framework of the government's interpretation of the war-renouncing Constitution.

"The vessels will be remodeled based on the principle that Japan can't possess offensive aircraft carriers under the Constitution," Sato told reporters. "We've clearly confirmed that (F-35B stealth fighters) will be operated only 'when necessary' instead of constantly."

However, "when necessary" can be broadly interpreted. If F-35 stealth fighters are to be carried on such vessels, it could deviate from the government's defense-only policy.

In the meantime, former Defense Minister Gen Nakatani and other LDP legislators specializing in defense policies proposed in June that Japan should consider having the capability to attack enemies' missile bases.

However, as work to compile the defense guidelines shifted into high gear, Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya rejected the idea, saying, "Japan relies on the United States for attacking enemies' bases."

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Maetani, City News Department, and Noriaki Kinoshita, Political News Department)

Also in The Mainichi

The Mainichi on social media