Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation in the Age of Defense Innovation­­

By Satoru Mori —

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) destroyer JDS Kongou sails in formation during ANNUALEX exercises between the United States Navy and the JMSDF. Source: Wikimedia, U.S. Government Work.

What must the Japan-U.S. alliance do to retain overmatch in the long-term peacetime military competition with China in an age when defense innovation is accelerating rapidly? This question will require forward looking efforts by alliance managers in Tokyo and Washington to maintain credible deterrence in the western Pacific in the years to come. In the information revolution age — characterized by exponential datafication, expanding global connectivity, and the rise of intelligent machines — the components of deterrent power are beginning to fundamentally shift. Dealing with short-term challenges while preparing to adapt to the future security environment is becoming ever more challenging. Moreover, the character of war is changing due to the military application of artificial intelligence, big data analytics, quantum computing, and robotics, among other cutting-edge technologies. This ever-shifting global technological environment demands greater change from military organizations engaged in long-term strategic competition.

The Japan-U.S. alliance has been adapting to the shifting strategic landscape through a series of major undertakings to upgrade the alliance. The 2015 Guidelines for Japan-U.S. Defense Cooperation laid out the framework for operational coordination under Japan’s new Legislation on Peace and Security, which took effect on March 29, 2016. The 2015 Guidelines also institutionally strengthened alliance coordination through the establishment of the standing Alliance Coordination Mechanism (ACM) and the Bilateral Planning Mechanism (BPM). On February 10, 2017, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump built on this foundation by instructing their foreign and defense ministers “to convene a Security Consultative Committee (SCC: ‘2+2’) meeting to identify ways to further strengthen the U.S.-Japan Alliance, including through the review of the respective roles, missions, and capabilities of the two countries.” The subsequent SCC meeting was held on August 17, 2017 and attended by Taro Kono, Rex Tillerson, Itsunori Onodera, and James Mattis. They delivered a joint statement announcing their intention to “explore new and expanded activities in various areas, such as Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR), training and exercises, research and development, capacity building, and the joint/shared use of facilities” through the review of roles, missions, and capabilities (RMC).

The ongoing RMC review will have to address various short- and mid-term challenges, but the alliance must also look beyond to the longer-term challenges resulting from the competition over defense innovation that is rapidly unfolding between the United States and China. Maintaining conventional deterrence without “assured dominance” by effectively leveraging the capabilities and resources of the United States and its allies, including Japan, will be one of the main strategic tasks for the alliance in coming years. From Japan’s perspective, the challenge of bilateral defense cooperation will require addressing two questions. First, how can the alliance best use technology to deter a militarily rising China that is becoming a peer competitor of the United States? Second, how can Japan best coordinate and cooperate with the U.S. armed forces as they evolve to compete with the People’s Liberation Army?

As the Japan-U.S. alliance looks ahead to the defense innovation competition with China, it must address the challenges and harness the opportunities that are emerging in the areas of technology research and development, concepts of operations, organizational constructs, and human talent. Below are some policy recommendations that Japan and the United States should consider for the long-term military competition with China. The following are some preliminary recommendations – please refer to details of the recommendations in the main paper.

R&D and Technology

  • Japan should establish a National Security Science Board (NSSB) to survey, monitor, nurture, protect, and eventually exploit emerging technologies developed in Japan for potential defense applications. The NSSB should establish a national technology database to be shared with the United States and with other major U.S. allies that are potential partners in joint defense research and development.
  • The United States should leverage its alliance network with major defense partners to forge an international consortium for defense technology cooperation on research and development.
  • Japan should vigorously promote and advance international joint research and development programs in areas in which Japan and the United States share common defense technological interests.
  • Japan and the United States should respectively establish an experimental TECH/CONOP co-development process in which defense technology developers and operators come together to develop options for novel concepts of operations that exploit emerging and existing technologies. A bilateral or multilateral forum between the United States and its major allies should be convened to explore viable advanced technology/operational concepts.

Interoperability and Operational Concepts

  • With regard to ISR cooperation, Japan should pursue the establishment of a Common Operating Picture (COP) while introducing common standards of cyber and electronic warfare resilience and system integrity for all U.S. and Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) ISR platforms.
  • The Japanese and U.S. governments should develop coordinated response plans for gray zone situations by incorporating elements of “competition” contained in the Multi-Domain Battle concept.
  • The JSDF and U.S. forces should plan a whole range of training, exercises, wargames, and other measures to prepare for combined operations under network-degraded or network-denied environments.

Organizational Constructs

  • The JSDF should devise an internal roadmap for a new organizational construct that would make combined multi-domain operations effective in the western Pacific theater of operations. In order to realize the full potential of multi-domain battle, both U.S. forces and the JSDF should respectively pursue command and control integration, and the JSDF should devise a plan to introduce autonomy into its battle network.
  • The Japanese and U.S. governments should assess the appropriate command and control structures for joint operations in the space and cyberspace domains.

Dr. Satoru Mori is a professor at the Department of Global Politics, the Faculty of Law, Hosei University. In 2018, Dr. Mori was a Visiting Scholar with the Japan Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington, D.C. Dr. Mori’s essay is part of CSIS’s Strategic Japan Working Paper Series featuring Japanese scholars addressing pressing issues in Japanese foreign policy.


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