The sixth edition of the Japan India Maritime Exercise 2022, JIMEX 22, hosted by the Indian Navy, ended on September 17, 22 in the Bay of Bengal when the two sides bid each other farewell with a customary steam flyby. The exercise, which marked the tenth anniversary of JIMEX since its inception in 2012, cemented mutual understanding and interoperability between the two navies.
JIMEX 22 witnessed some of the most complex exercises conducted jointly by the two navies. Both sides engaged in advanced anti-submarine warfare, gunfire, and air defense exercises. Ship helicopters, fighter jets and submarines also took part in the exercise. IN and JMSDF ships supplied each other at sea under the Reciprocal Provision of Supplies and Services Agreement (RPSS).
The week-long exercise featured Indian Navy ships led by Rear Admiral Sanjay Bhalla, flag officer of the Eastern Fleet, and Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) ships Izumo and Takanami, led by Rear Admiral Hirata Toshiyuki, commander of Escort Flotilla Four.
The relevance of such bilateral naval exercises is seen in the context of a larger debate about reinventing Japan’s defense and security posture. The focus remains on seafaring as Japan grapples with its bigger roles and whether the country wants to redefine its security perspectives.
The security environment has changed drastically, ie responding to the imminent threats with the rise of China is the most important factor in creating a security roadmap for the Japanese Armed Forces, better known as the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). The Japanese Constitution prohibits war as a means of settling international disputes and prohibits the maintenance of a military. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wanted to amend Article 9 to specifically allow the existence of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). In reality, the Japanese military refrains from using offensive weapons such as long-range ballistic missiles, bombers and aircraft carriers. Manpower is quite limited. Where is it going?
Japan’s Defense Architecture
Japan sits at the forefront of a dynamic security landscape in the Indo-Pacific. Japan’s home islands form the strategic first island chain. The Japanese coast guard is regularly confronted with Chinese colleagues in the East China Sea. The standoff is frequent, which is often mentioned in the Japanese media. If you just look at Japan’s Senkaku Islands and the violations by Chinese Coast Guard ships near the islands, it reflects the coordinated actions and plans built on such an escalation. As reported, in the recent past, China Coast Guard vessels — a total of 1,161 vessels — have been near the Senkaku Islands and engaged in illegal activities. As it continues, on July 4, two Chinese Coast Guard ships entered Japanese territorial waters near the Senkaku Islands, prompting a possible confrontation. Japan’s Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi described the infiltration as a breach of international law.
The situation paints a very clear picture around the points of conflict with Japan.
Given China’s military capabilities, it is crucial to increase Japan’s deterrence – both independently and collectively – against China, particularly its use of force against disputed territories in the Indo-Pacific.
While China is at the center of Japan’s security dimension, North Korea’s nuclear and missile program poses serious challenges. Japan faces an increasingly insecure security environment, and a sense of vulnerability stems from perceived declining US engagement in the region.
China’s rapid military modernization and capabilities create compelling situations for Japan to act on the basis of its fallible security architecture.
Equally evident is the fact that China’s defense budget has grown from just $11.4 billion in 1989 to $250 billion in 2018, and from just 40 percent of Japan’s defense budget to 536 percent. In 2017, President Xi Jinping predicted that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) “will have been fully transformed into world-class armed forces” that “can fight and win” “by the middle of the 21st century.”
“Japan is divided on Article 9 of the constitution,” says Jagannath Panda, director of the Yokosuka Council on Asia-Pacific Studies (YCAPS), Japan, on the larger issue of introducing reforms to the elements of the constitution . The debate still revolves around the “limitation of first strike capability,” Panda points out that this is hampering his roadmap for capability building. The critical component of Japan’s own efforts to strengthen the Alliance is to continue modernizing its defense capabilities to better meet the security challenges of today and tomorrow.
The slow reform began to flow when Japan released two key defense policy planning documents in December 2018: the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG), a policy document guiding Japan’s defense policy for the next five years, and the Mid-Term Defense Program, an acquisition planning document supporting the NDPG.
In 2018, the NDPG put forward “Multidomain Defense Force (tajigen tōgō bōei-ryoku)” as the organizational concept that Japan will strive for. The concept changed fundamentally from the previous plan based on the Dynamic Joint Defense Force (dōteki bōei-ryoku) in 2013. Though it took some time to formulate, it certainly addressed the threat in its bolder version, outlined in its Multidomain Defense Force. So what the concept paper is clearly talking about is building a credible long-range missile program, including next-generation aircraft carriers and submarines. In addition, it also clearly represents the capability roadmap based on the multi-domain perspective of space in defense.
While Japan is absent from its defense plan as it is constrained on the political front, the country has already embarked on a security partnership and is conducting many high-profile military exercises with its partners and friends in the region and beyond. It now holds regular security consultations, 2+2 ministerial meetings, with the United States, Australia, Russia, France, Britain, Indonesia and India.
On the security front, Japan is working closely with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) armed forces under the Japan-ASEAN defense cooperation framework, the Vientiane Vision. This led to the deployment of Izumo-class destroyers by the SDF to various ASEAN countries under the Japan-ASEAN Ship Rider Cooperation Program.
Within the security dimension, Japan emphasized Freedom of Navigational Operations (FONOPs). This is important to the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP), which is about the open, rules-based order and upholding the sanctity of the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).
Military coordination between India and Japan
At the second India-Japan 2+2 Ministerial Dialogue in Tokyo, Defense Minister Rajnath Singh and his Japanese counterpart Yasukazu Hamada agreed to strengthen bilateral defense cooperation and engage in further military exercises, including holding the first joint fighter jet exercises. The combat exercise will lead to greater cooperation and interoperability between the two countries’ air forces.
Japan and India also initiated the operationalization of the agreement on mutual provision of supplies and services during exercise MILAN in March this year. Finally, it improves interoperability through initiatives such as the implementation of the Mutual Provision of Supplies and Services Agreement between the Japan Self-Defense Forces and the Indian Armed Forces during bilateral training.
In addition to this multilateral exercise Malabar, which involves Japan, the United States, India and Australia, two consecutive years will be held. The Quad Summit, hosted by Japan in Tokyo last month, launched a satellite-based maritime security initiative aimed at achieving a free and open Indo-Pacific.”
The benefit of this maritime initiative will allow tracking dark shipping and other tactical activities such as rendezvous at sea, as well as enhancing the partners’ ability to respond to climatic and humanitarian events and protect their fisheries, which are vital to many Indo-Pacific economies.
Lack of cooperation in the defense industry
While security cooperation is certainly growing in the right direction, the missing link is the lack of cooperation in military-industrial cooperation. Japan is still considering whether the government could allow exports of military equipment to other countries, including India.
The story began in 2014 when the Abe administration decided to lift the ban on the export of Japanese military equipment (non-lethal) to the world. Japan offered India US-2 amphibious aircraft manufactured by the Japanese company ShinMaywa. While the discussion between India and Japan went on for a long time, it did not materialize as it was said to be too expensive at the time.
Japan had also entered the Indian Navy’s Project 75 India, in which the Indian Navy was to build six conventional submarines with a next-generation Air Independent Propulsion (API) system. AIP is the main technological breakthrough for submarines, allowing submarines to stay underwater for much longer. a much-needed requirement for the Indian Navy to remain stealthy underwater. However, the Japanese government decided to withdraw from the Project 75 I, seeing the challenges of dealing with such concerns.
But recently, Japan and India held the first India-Japan defense industry dialogue to talk about cooperation and cooperation for military equipment. Japan has acquired considerable know-how in the construction of naval warships, submarines and fighter aircraft. This could lead to possible cooperation with India, particularly in the fighter jet sector. India has initiated a multiple combat aircraft program that will have next-generation capabilities such as Project Advanced Medium Combat Aircraft (AMCA) and Project Tejas Mk II. In addition, IAF is also working on its long-pending acquisition plan for the flagship MRFA.
In the presentation, Indian Ambassador to Japan Sanjay Kumar Verma highlighted some of the key areas in this field including electromagnetic spectrum, outer space, cyberspace, underwater domain awareness, high energy lasers, cryptography, sensors, optical cables, robotics and artificial intelligence.
How much of such talks will translate into reality remains to be seen, knowing the lengthy political process underway? But surely it is only a matter of time before such a “forward-looking defense partnership,” as Panda puts it, will unfold.