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November 18, 2019updated 11 Feb 2022 8:52am

DSEI Japan addresses unstable neighbours and growing regional threats

DSEI heads to Japan today, marking the first time the event has left London. Army Technology looks at the unique defence priorities of Japan and the threats it faces in the region.

By Harry Lye

Following successive years of defence spending hikes, Japan’s military is maintaining preparedness in the face of increasingly hostility from its neighbours, China and North Korea. Despite a constitution that bars the defence forces to being used except in the defence of the nation, it has invested in extensive programmes including the F-35 and ballistic missile defences to bolster its footing in Asia.

Alex Soar, international development director for Clarion Events which runs DSEI, told Army Technology: “With DSEI celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, it is the right time to take the event to Japan for the show’s first iteration outside the UK. We have been working Crisis Intelligence, our in-country partners, for four years to shape the exhibition to fit the unique Japanese market and the needs of the Japanese customer.

Soar added: “With the reinterpretation of the Japanese constitution several years ago and the relaxation of restrictions on defence imports and exports, we see that it is an appropriate time to offer a new a route to market for those focused on the Asia Pacific region.”

In this environment, the opportunity to market defence equipment in Japan could not be more apparent as it looks to respond to challenging regional threats.

In the country’s annual national defence white paper Japan’s security environment is made clear: “At present, the security environment surrounding Japan is changing at extremely high speeds. Changes in the balance of power in the international arena are accelerating and becoming more complex, and uncertainty over the existing order is increasing.”

The introduction to the paper makes clear how ‘new domains’ like space, and cyberspace will ‘fundamentally change the existing paradigm of national security’. Another line made clear from the onset is Japan’s belief that it needs to continue investment in these new domains as war moves away from the traditional fields of land, air and sea.

“Combined with Japan’s very real desire to improve their military capability in the face of regional frictions, the opportunity presented by the Japanese market is enormous for both Japanese and international industry.”

Bringing the DSEI brand from London to Japan will give a new market access to the vast scope of domains covered by the arms fair and undoubtedly spark creative solutions to some of the specific threats affecting the area.

Soar added: “Combined with Japan’s very real desire to improve their military capability in the face of regional frictions, the opportunity presented by the Japanese market is enormous for both Japanese and international industry.

“We look forward to welcoming exhibitors, VIP delegates and visitors to the show later this month, and expect it to offer a strong basis for the future development of the Japanese defence market.”

Another threat outlined by Japan’s white paper is the aerial threat posed by North Korea, created by advancements and the increasing range of ballistic missiles. Japan cites as examples the development of the Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a range of more than 10,000km, and the Hwasong-14, capable of reaching 5,500km; both easily capable of striking the Japanese mainland. Like many countries, the diversity of threats facing Japan also sit in the oft-quoted ‘grey zone’, forcing a need to meld traditional defence expansion with pushes into unconventional fields.

Republic of Korea Army soldiers stand resolute at the iconic Joint Security Area where South and North Korean soldiers stand face to face across the Korean Demilitarized Zone. Image: US Army photo by Staff Sgt. Richard Colletta.

Describing the hermit kingdom of North Korea, Japan’s Ministry of Defence does not mince its words, writing: “Military trends in North Korea continue to pose a serious and imminent threat to the security of Japan.”

Despite prior pledges to de-nuclearise the peninsula, little has been done to relieve tensions. North Korea’s instability has long been seen as a threat to Japan and has been a driving force in the development of missile defence systems on the home islands. Over the past few years, North Korea has on numerous occasions tested missiles by launching them over Japan.

Another aerial threat faced by Japan is being seen worldwide;  the use of small drones. SRC, a non-profit R&D company focused on defence told Army Technology: “Defeating the rapidly-evolving threat of the small and commercially available hostile drones in countries such as Japan has become critical since it directly jeopardizes these countries’ critical infrastructure, military and personnel security.

SRC added: “DSEI Japan will present a unique platform for SRC to showcase its system-of-systems approach with a counter-UAS capability that detects and defeats low, slow and small UAS threats.”

The rapid modernisation of and investment in China’s People’s Liberation Army has also struck a nerve in the region, and Japan is taking note. China has pumped billions into its budget, stripping away outdated cold-war era equipment and, like North Korea, investing heavily in ballistic missiles. A key cause of concern from China is maritime territorial disputes, particularly around the South China Sea and Sea of Japan. In the airways and waterways around Japan, China has stepped up its activities by building bases and bolstering hardware in the area.

Other non-military ventures like Chinese premier Xi Jinping’s legacy Belt and Road Initiative is seen as a cause for concern as the country spreads its influence beyond its direct neighbours. Activities like China opening its first overseas base in Djibouti in 2017 make clear the country’s power-projecting ambitions. The development of naval operations in Pakistan is also a key pillar of this push from China.

While China and North Korea present the most direct threat to Japan, the country also sees Russia as an adversary in the region. Japan says: “Continued attention needs to be paid to Russian military development.” This has become increasingly obvious to Japan as year-round ‘scrambles’ against Russian aircraft have become a more common occurrence. Japan’s Armed Forces also highlighted how military build-up in the northern territories, including missile batteries on the Etorofu and Kunashiri islands, pose a threat. Both islands belong to Russia but are disputed by the two countries.

Two Japan Air Self Defense Force F-15s. Image: US Air Force photo by Angelique Perez.

One of Japan’s over prominent key defence priorities is the continuation of the country’s partnership with the US. Exercises like RIMPAC continue to play an important role in protecting the two nations military footprint in the area, while US forward basing in Japan remains a key tenant of the two’s relationship. Japan also enjoys significant protections from the US in the form of the US Nuclear Triad, as Japan operates no nuclear weapons of its own this task falls to the US.

Another DSEI exhibitor, thinklogical, told Army Technology: “As Japan and other countries in the region enhance their defence posture to counter growing global threats, there is an urgent need for accurate and timely information delivery and analysis to support mission-critical military operations.”

With a number of threats facing the country, from unstable neighbours to growing regional threats, Japan’s defensive priorities are numerous and nuanced.  DSEI Japan should present some interesting solutions to counter these growing and ongoing threats.

In the wider picture, Japan’s defensive place is also nuanced, with a constitutionally-different kind of Armed Forces that require different tools. The region is a hotbed of development in many sectors, and increasingly an important place to watch when it comes to defence.

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