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Japan plans to call for building of 'multidimensional' defense force

U.S. Marine Corps troops disembark from a Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force helicopter during a joint exercise with the GSDF's amphibious troop unit on Tanegashima Island, Kagoshima Prefecture, on Oct. 14, 2018. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) -- 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 "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.

The idea has emerged as the Self-Defense Forces are believed to be facing an increasing need to enhance their abilities to conduct so-called "cross-domain" operations that go across ground, marine and air domains in the face of China's military build-up and technological advances in recent years.

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 sufficiently with the existing framework," a senior Defense Ministry official has also said.

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

In the previous guidelines adopted in 2013, the government said it will develop a "dynamic joint defense force" to seamlessly respond in a variety of situations.

The guidelines set out the country's defense capability targets over a span of about 10 years. Based on the guidelines, the Cabinet is also set to adopt a Midterm Defense Program, which specifies a five-year defense spending and procurement plan.

Under a draft outline of the new guidelines, Japanese officials said earlier this week the government plans to upgrade its existing flat-top helicopter carrier Izumo 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 party, 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 has 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 post-World War II 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.

In the next Midterm Defense program, the government is also seeking to introduce about 20 F-35B stealth fighter jets, which are capable of short takeoffs and vertical landings, to use on the Izumo.

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