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Japan's Defense Overhaul: A Closer Look at Its ¥43-Trillion Strategy

Simulations confirm that Japan cannot protect itself with its current defense capabilities. With this reality check, contingency plans are finally underway.



National Security Strategy
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida holds a press conference announcing the decision on the three security documents, including the National Security Strategy, at the prime minister's office on December 16. (©Sankei by Yasuhiro Yajima)

With the current state of its defense capabilities, Japan cannot fully defend itself. Recognizing these grim circumstances, the Japanese government has begun to prepare for a contingency. On December 16, 2022, the Cabinet approved three national security documents, including the National Security Strategy (NSS). These documents stated that the total defense-related expenditure over five years would be approximately ¥43 trillion JPY ($313 billion USD). 

Upon their approval, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that "extremely realistic simulations" were conducted "given the capabilities of other countries and new ways to engage in combat." This was to determine if the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), with its current capabilities, would be able to "deter threats" and "fully defend the country."

He concluded, "To be frank, our current situation is inadequate."

Deterrence Alone Is Not Enough

Japan has spent ¥5 trillion JPY (around $34 billion USD) annually on defense. However, Kishida declared that defense capabilities would be insufficient if "threats were to be realized."

That is why the Japanese government has decided to implement a ¥43 trillion JPY defense force development strategy over the next five years. In addition to acquiring counterstrike capabilities, the strategy addresses new cyber, maritime, space, and electromagnetic threats. 

Other points that Kishida mentioned were "upgrading our ammunition, securing sufficient financial resources to develop and maintain our facilities and equipment, and improving the treatment SDF and Coast Guard members receive."

But will this be enough to protect Japan? "Through steady execution of the Defense Buildup Program, we will enhance the deterrence and response capabilities of the SDF and thereby decrease the possibility of armed attack," Kishida affirmed. 


In short, the steady implementation of this ¥43 trillion JPY plan over five years will merely "decrease the possibility of armed attack." What this means is that the strategy will not necessarily prevent a military strike on Japan or a contingency.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida inspects the troops after an aerial review ceremony also at Air Self-Defense Force Iruma Base in Saitama Prefecture. November 11, 2023. (©Sankei by Kanata Iwasaki)

Promoting Public-Private Cooperation

To compensate for this glaring inadequacy, the NSS includes a new section on contingency measures. This section is titled "Reinforcing Response Capabilities within Japan with Contingencies in Mind."

The first of these measures is to enhance public ports and airports for SDF use. If its bases are attacked and rendered unusable in the event of a contingency, the SDF will require access to this infrastructure. 

On August 25, a ministerial committee for examining the broader incorporation of Japan's commercial sector into its security policy held its first meeting. Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno chairs the committee. Based on SDF and Japan Coast Guard (JCG) needs, the committee called for public infrastructure development and functional improvement. Such facilities include airports and ports in the Nansei Islands, Kyushu, and Shikoku, where SDF bases are located. Members also stated the need for a framework to allow the SDF and JCG to use these facilities in peacetime.

Following this, on November 13, SDF fighter jets conducted takeoff and landing drills at airports in Oita and Kagoshima prefectures. This marked the first time the SDF has conducted such exercises at a commercial airport in anticipation of a contingency. It is likely that the SDF will carry out similar drills at other airports throughout Japan from now on.

Submarine JS Raigei of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force on October 17, Kawasaki Heavy Industries Kobe Factory in Chuo-ku, Kobe. (©Sankei by Kotaro Hikono)

SDF, Police, and JCG Coordination

The second contingency measure of this strategy expands transportation arrangements and storage of ammunition, fuel, and other SDF supplies. On March 2, the Upper House budget committee convened. At the meeting, then-Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada announced that the SDF would build approximately 130 ammunition depots across Japan. The SDF will construct these facilities over the next ten years to boost its fighting capacity.

The third contingency measure is protecting nuclear power plants and other critical infrastructure essential to sustaining citizens' livelihoods. This also includes measures against illegal landing on remote border islands. To that end, the strategy proposes establishing a coordination framework among the SDF, police, and JCG. Such a framework would enable Japan to respond appropriately and seamlessly to armed attacks. It would also facilitate swift and precise responses to various other stages and forms of crises. 

Under this policy, on April 28, the Cabinet approved a control guideline based on Article 80 of the Self-Defense Forces Act. When the Prime Minister orders the defense forces to mobilize, the guideline allows the Minister of Defense to assume control of the JCG. Although the Self-Defense Forces Act was enacted in 1954, the government had failed to pass such a control guideline. The Cabinet's decision constitutes a significant step forward on a long-standing issue. 

No More Avoiding Military Affairs

Another new section, "Reinforcing Mechanisms for the Protection of Japanese Nationals," was also included in the NSS. As outlined in this particular measure, Japan will aim to achieve:

"[...] prompt evacuation of residents, including those in the Southwest region well in advance of an armed attack, Japan will take measures such as formulating a plan for smooth evacuation as soon as possible, securing the means of transportation of the public and private sectors, developing and coordinating the use of airports, seaports, and other public infrastructures, securing various types of evacuation facilities, and working with international organizations."


On March 17, the central government and Okinawa prefecture conducted the first-ever tabletop evacuation of approximately 120,000 people from Japanese islands near Taiwan. In a contingency, residents of the Sakishima Islands (Miyakojima, Ishigaki, Taketomi, Yonaguni, and Tarama) will be evacuated to prefectures in Kyushu. On October 17, Matsuno requested prefectures in Kyushu to create a preliminary plan to secure lodging, medical care, and food for evacuees. He also revealed that the government plans to finalize an evacuation plan for 120,000 people in the Sakishima Islands within FY 2025.

With the cooperation of its local counterparts, government-led contingency plans are underway. We can no longer avoid military affairs and planning for contingencies. 


(Read the article in Japanese.)

Author: Michio Ezaki

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