Japan's defense ministry held a ceremony in Yokohama on July 30 for naming of the country's seventh Aegis escort warship; it has been named Maya and is likely to be commissioned around March 2020.
Maya is the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force's first vessel equipped with cooperative engagement capability (CEC), a device that can share a large volume of data in real time without the use of satellites and has the capability to intercept missiles and enemy fighter aircraft.
With China in mind, Japan wants to strengthen cooperation with the US military. Aegis warships and E-2D airborne early warning aircraft of the US military stationed in Japan have already been equipped with CEC.
Since March this year, the Japanese government and the ruling Liberal Democratic Party have been showing interest in converting Izumo, a helicopter carrier, into an aircraft carrier. In fact, speaking in parliament recently, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera conceded that the ministry is studying the feasibility of retrofitting Izumo so that US F-35B stealth fighter jets could land on it. The retrofitted Izumo would provide rear-area support to US military operations.
Besides, the LDP's proposals for the new National Defense Program Guidelines for the 2019-23 period urge the government to introduce a "multipurpose aircraft carrier". The Japanese government plans to release the guidelines later this year,
If Izumo were converted, the Asahi Shimbun said in a recent editorial, it would be an aircraft carrier with highly enhanced attacking capabilities. And Japan's gradual shift away from its defense-only principle could trigger a lose-lose arms race with its neighbors.
Among its major defense procurement programs, Japan is mulling spending 466.4 billion yen ($4.2 billion) to deploy the Aegis Ashore system units made by Lockheed Martin at its Ground Self-Defense Force's maneuvering base in Akita prefecture in the north and Yamaguchi prefecture on Honshu island to counter potential missiles from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and China. The advanced radar system to be installed has a range of about 1,000 kilometers, and the Aegis Ashore would start operation in fiscal 2025.
Japan also plans to have all three SDF wings jointly operate the RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft, which is expected to be introduced in fiscal 2021, in a bid to monitor security situations, including the military movements of China and the DPRK. A Sankei Shimbun report said the Ground Self-Defense Force is also studying a plan to hire merchant vessels for transporting personnel and materiel to Japan's southwestern islands in an emergency.
The Shinzo Abe administration has proposed major changes in Japan's defense policy, which would change Japan's pacifist defense policy into a more dynamic one based on bilateral and even multilateral relationships. To that effect, Japan has signed Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreements with Canada and France, in a bid to strengthen cooperation between Japan's Self-Defense Forces and the Canadian and French militaries.
The Canadian government has released a statement saying the deal would allow the two countries to make efficient use of each other's military equipment during operations and exercises in Canada, Japan and other locations. And the French Ministry of the Armed Forces said in a statement that the agreement is aimed at "strengthening interoperability, reducing the cost of mutual support services between our armies, and facilitating, in the long term, joint military interactions".
Japan's "defense" moves prompted Moscow to express concern over Tokyo's plan to deploy the Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense system at the "two-plus-two" meeting between Japanese and Russian foreign and defense ministers in Moscow on July 31, a day after the naming of Maya. Actually, Moscow has long contended that the Aegis Ashore system is a direct national security concern for Russia, as it is part of the US plan to deploy a missile defense system in Asia.
With all these developments, Japan's new defense program should be observed closely, because it is an indicator of where the country's security policy is headed.