Soldiers with the Western Army Infantry Regiment, Japan Ground Self-Defense Force exit an MV-22 Osprey and set up 360-degree security after conducting fast-rope training during exercise Iron Fist 2018 on Jan. 23. (Cpl. Kyle McNan/U.S. Marine Corps)
The Japanese government recently submitted two Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreements (ACSA), signed with Canada and France respectively, to the National Diet, Japanese media reported. Japan has already signed such military logistics pacts with the US, Australian and British militaries, and is negotiating an ACSA with India.
As the saying goes, food and fodder should go before the troops and horses. In modern warfare, strategic prepositioning is equivalent to the prepositioning of ammunition, accessories and other “logistics” to a suitable location, so as to better carry out military operations in the future.
Restricted by its Pacifist Constitution, Japan is prohibited from having the right of belligerency and maintaining armed forces with war potential. However, the Japanese government has taken great pains to use “military power” and break through the bottom line of the exclusively defense-oriented policy. After March 2016, the New National Security Bills allow Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) to provide military support overseas to other countries, relax the conditions for providing logistical support to foreign military, and expand the scope of JSDF’s overseas operations to the whole world.
In the past, under the guise of maintaining regional peace and security, and in the name of “making international contributions”, overseas deployments of JSDF were mainly in peacekeeping, escort and rescue operations under the framework of the United Nations. In 2009, Japan began sending ships and aircraft to the Gulf of Aden for patrol and escort missions. In order to find a legal basis for escorting troops, the Japanese government passed Anti-Piracy Measures Law through the Diet. And two years later in 2011, it built first overseas base in Djibouti in the name of escort missions. From 2012 to 2017, Japan sent a detachment of about 350 engineers to South Sudan. In November 2016, it officially authorized its peacekeeping troops in South Sudan to provide military support to other countries overseas, namely the so-called “support and escort”.
Today, Japan is promoting strategic prepositioning in all directions while gradually cleaning up policy barriers for overseas military use. In overseas deployment, Japan has expanded its base in Djibouti to achieve a long-term presence. In training preparations, Japan has carried out various bilateral and multilateral exercises in the South China Sea, the East China Sea and eastern Okinawa, and set up the island offensive and defensive courses to improve island combat capability. In intelligence and information, Japan has strengthened intelligence sharing with the “Five Eyes alliance” of the U.S., the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. The Japanese civilian heavy equipment development industry always has the capability to be converted to military at any time. The conversion of the Izumo frigate aims to equip Japan with the capability to achieve a mobile strategic presence through the “mobile territory” of the aircraft carrier. In the emerging multi-domain defense field, Japan is increasing investment in cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence, laser and electromagnetic waves. It is also planning to build “space troops”.
In addition, Japan's efforts to sign ACSA with several countries are also of deep interest. The agreement enables JSDF and foreign troops to mutually provide ammunition and other logistical support during joint training, peacekeeping and humanitarian relief. For Japan, the purpose of signing such agreement with many parties is to carry out more in-depth substantive military cooperation with US and its allies, and to place multiple bets on more countries. On the other hand, it not only guarantees the use of its troops, but also creates the demand for the overseas use of its troops.
It is not difficult to project that Japan will continue all of these practices in the future. It will promote the use of overseas troops and take the opportunity to continuously break through institutional constraints while providing logistical support for contracting parties. In this regard, regional countries and the international community should remain highly vigilant.
(The authors are Zhang Xiaoxuan and Xue Jun from the Academy of Military Sciences of the Chinese PLA)