How to Make Japan's Military Great Again

Posted by On 12:18 PM

How to Make Japan's Military Great Again

On December 15, 2017, Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe delivered a speech at the Kyodo News managing editors’ meeting, covering various topics, which included his electoral victory, Abenomics, social security, North Korea and China. The highlight of his speech, however, was Abe’s announcement to revise the current National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) in 2018. The NDPG is a defense policy document which also guides the procurement plan entitled the Mid-Term Defense Program (MTDP) for the next five years.

In his speech, Abe emphasized his approach toward the revision by stating: “While maintaining our exclusively defense-oriented policy as a given, I intend to identify what defense capabilities we truly need to protect the people, rather than simply extending existing capabilities, facing head on the realities of the security situation surrounding Japan.” His words sounded promising, suggestin g that a big change in security policy would be coming this year.

But the essential question left open in the last decade must be answered during this process of making the new NDPG. Can the Self-Defense Forces’ (SDF) force level and structure sufficiently cope with the increased defense capability?

Increase of the SDF Capability Based on the 2014 NDPG and MTDP

The current 2014 NDPG stresses the importance of enhancing the SDF’s deterrence and response capability in both quantity and quality. For example, the SDF prioritizes the development of capacities to ensure maritime supremacy and air superiority, which is a prerequisite for effective deterrence and response in various situations, including defense posture buildup in the southwestern region.

In order to achieve this goal, the 2014 NDPG and MTDP outline key measures as follows: (A) an increase in destroyers from forty-seven (including six Aegis-equippe d destroyers) to fifty-four (including 8 Aegis-equipped ones); (B) an increase in submarines from sixteen to twenty-two; (C) an increase in air force fighters from 260 to 280; (D) an increase in one aerial and transport squadron to a total of three squadrons; and (E) the establishment of one amphibious rapid development brigade.


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When the FY 2018 budget started in April, thirteen out of twenty-three procurement items listed in the current MTDP were completely budgeted, including five destroyers (two Aegis-equipped ones), five submarines, twenty-eight F-35A, and fifty-two amphibious vehicles. Japan has been making great progress toward the desired level of defense capability and the new 2018 NDPG and MTDP will update their efforts in December.

How About the Current SDF Force Level and Structure?

As of March 31, 2017, the actual total strength of the SDF personnel was 224,422, consisting of approximately 60 percent for the Ground SDF (GSDF), 19 percent for the Maritime SDF (MSDF), 19 percent for the Air SDF (ASDF), and 2 percent for the Joint Staff Council (JSC). For the staffing ratio (i.e., a ratio of actual personnel strength to the necessary personnel strength), th e GSDF is at 90 percent, the MSDF is at 93 percent, the ASDF is at 92 percent, the JSC is at 91 percent, and the SDF as a whole is at 91 percent. Each branch is short-staffed but it appears to be sufficient for the time being. Then what are the problems?

One major problem has been an extreme shortage of enlisted (lower) rank personnel. For example, the enlisted (lower) rank personnel for the MSDF consists of seaman apprentice, seaman and leading seaman. While the staffing ratio of officer, warrant officer, and enlisted (upper) ranks is at 93-99 percent for the end of fiscal year 2017, the enlisted (lower) rank personnel is just at 69.5 percent. The ratio by branch is not clear, but simply speaking, each ground unit, each naval ship and submarine, and each squadron can only fill approximately 70 percent of the enlisted (lower) rank positions.

The SDF has been dealing with this problem for quite some time. According to the past annual defense white papers, the ratio has remained within the range of 69 percent to 76 percent during fiscal years 2008 â€"17. A naval ship, for example, can be operational with a 70 percent staffing ratio. But it is important to note that the ship is designed to become fully operational with a 100 percent staffing ratio accommodating three-to-four crew rotations inside the ship, so naval forces remain fresh and can operate with full strength when necessary.

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Under the condition, the SDF is taking every effort to ensure that the armed forces remain highly operational and totally functional. Since 2008, the MSDF has participated in the international cooperation activities against piracy off the coast of Somalia, and one destroyer is still operating. According to the Diet minutes of May 19, 2011, when Japan dispa tched two destroyers overseas, the MSDF made sure that these naval ships secured at least 90 percent of the staffing ratio. As a result, the staffing ratio for the remaining naval assets decreased to the level of 70-80 percent. This meant that crews on the ships operating near the Japanese homeland got shorter rest and a longer work load.

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Source: Google News Japan | Netizen 24 Japan

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