Center for Strategic Communication

By: Will Atkins

japan mapIn a region of the world that showcases an increasingly belligerent North Korea, China’s recent “coercion of the seas”, and an ever-present non-state terrorism and piracy threat; Japan remains a stead-fast ally of the United States in providing stability to the region. After a recent perceived decrease in American primacy, however, Japan has begun a campaign of military restructuring to a “dynamic defense force,” and seeks a rebalancing of the US-Japanese strategic alliance. This week’s administrative imperialism by China, expanding their Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) to include the contested Senkaku Islands in the South China Sea, has put added pressure on Japan’s ability to provide a stabilizing force in the region.

Japan’s 2010 National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) stipulated that the newly described dynamic defense force focus on regular peacetime operations such as intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) operations in an effort to detect and deter future de-stabilizing acts in the Pacific region. This focus on Japan’s ISR capabilities and the recent increase in the Japanese defense budget by 3% notwithstanding, these improvements will do little on their own to protect a nation of more than 6,000 islands against encroachment by China. In the current fiscally constrained environment, it would benefit both the U.S. and Japan to leverage each other’s capabilities in the region, creating an expanded, integrated ISR network, and ensuring that their individual ISR capabilities overlap. In addition to ensuring a balanced alliance between the US and Japan, the integrated ISR network would ensure information superiority in the region, and simultaneously function as a deterrent to future belligerence by neighboring countries. To reach these ends, and as further proof of the American “pivot” towards increased relations in the region, a new U.S. – Japan Defense ISR Working Group was created on October 3rd to investigate how to integrate the two nations’ ISR capabilities.

While an expanded and integrated ISR network would not have detected or prevented China’s administrative usurpation of the contested islands, this network would be able to provide significant advantages in monitoring potential future Chinese aerial patrol of the area, observe encroachment of naval vessels into Japanese territory, allow for the screening of sea lanes (through which Japan receives 99% of its total trade volume), and provide adequate warning for both Japan and the United States of a missile launch by North Korea.

The integration of two nations’ ISR capabilities, however, is no easy task. Integrating air, land, sea, and space ISR capabilities requires a detailed study of each system’s capabilities and how they interact with each other. For example, the addition of a second AN/TPY-2 X-band radar system near Kyoto will provide an increase in ability to detect ballistic missile launches by North Korea, lessening the burden on U.S. Aegis ships in the Sea of Japan, and allowing them to reposition further south to the South China Sea. Additionally, the deployment of three Global Hawk long-range drone aircraft by the U.S. would benefit Japan by providing a persistent ISR presence in the region, but would require an integrated operations center for real-time analysis and exploitation. These are all issues that the ISR Working Group will consider before releasing recommendations in 2014.

The strategic military alliance between the United States and Japan is vital to ensure international peace and security in the Pacific Region. A rebalanced relationship, when combined with an integrated ISR network, will act as a deterrent against future Chinese administrative expansionism in this increasingly important region of the world.


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