The Japanese military is acquiring more F-35 stealth fighters, guided missiles, drones, and warship weapons systems to counter a massive Chinese military build-up, as well as a growing desire to increase training and interoperability with the United States.
Japan’s newly released Defense of Japan 2022 report outlined a new defense budget strategy called the Defense Strengthening Acceleration Package. The report explained that the country’s 2022 budget plan is $55.3 billion yen larger than in previous years.
“Japan’s defense expenditures have set a record for ten consecutive years,” the Defense of Japan 2022 report stated.
There is an interesting provision within Japan’s military budget that allows for more funds to be allocated to the “realignment of US forces” in Japan. This is significant given the record of successful weapons development collaboration between the United States and Japan for many years. For example, Japan is one of a number of U.S. allies operating Aegis Combat Systems on their warships. Not only does this greatly expand allied interoperability, but the integrated software, radar, fire control, and missile system expands the range and capabilities for ballistic missile defense and air-and-cruise-missile defense at sea. This will be critical in the Pacific theater as Tokyo seeks to defend its shores from Chinese ballistic missile attacks, many of which could reach Japan from mainland China.
“In order to secure technological superiority, Japan has decided to significantly increase investment in potentially game-changing technologies, and has increased R&D expenditure to a record high,” the report said.
Not only will Japanese warships operate with highly-sensitive, long-range, threat-detecting Aegis radar, but the report explained that Japanese destroyers have successfully launched F-35Bs. Fifth-generation stealth fighter interoperability represents another breakthrough in promoting U.S.-Japanese defense connectivity.
The ability to launch vertical-take-off and landing F-35Bs from destroyers will give Japan a distinct advantage in a maritime environment. China operates a limited number of land-based fifth-generation J-20 aircraft, but it does not have sea-launched fifth-generation aircraft. The emerging carrier-launched J-31 fighter cannot perform vertical-take-off-and-landings to place fifth-generation airpower on amphibious ships and destroyers.
In recent years, Japan has also collaborated with the United States in the development of several cutting-edge weapons such as the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor missile. Engineered as an upgraded variant of the SM-3 missile, the SM-3 Block IIA weapon is larger with greater range and capabilities than its predecessors. The SM-3 Block IIA could potentially integrate intercontinental ballistic missile defenses at sea with expanded intercept range and precision-guidance technology.
Japan has also acquired Osprey helicopters, the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block II, and the Global Hawk drone, among other systems.
Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.