Feb 22, 2024
7 mins read
7 mins read

Japan and the US Improve Warfighting Readiness in Face of Threats from the CCP

Japan and the US Improve Warfighting Readiness in Face of Threats from the CCP

Members of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force stand in formation during the opening ceremony of Exercise Southern Jackaroo 21 at 1st Brigade Headquarters, at Robertson Barracks in the Northern Territory on June 15, 2021. (PTE Jacob Joseph/ADF)

By Jon Sun and Michael Zhuang

Recently, Japan conducted a series of military drills and expanded its defense capabilities. U.S. Forces Japan (USFJ) conducted joint exercises with Japan to step up readiness in the face of a potential war, while defense drills focused on the vicinity of Taiwan. Experts believe that such moves are aimed at deterring the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) from invading Taiwan.

The United States and Japan, with the participation of Australian forces, conducted Operation Keen Edge from Feb. 1-8, a series of command post and field training exercises at bases in Japan and Hawaii.

Operation Keen Edge is “almost by definition directed at China,” Grant Newsham, a retired Marine colonel and senior researcher with the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo, told Stars and Stripes on Feb. 2.

Lawmakers in Japan continue to push for the rollout of bomb shelters. Yoshimasa Hayashi, Chief Cabinet Secretary of the Japanese government, told the Budget Committee of Japan’s House of Representatives on Feb. 13 that the government will propose the construction of evacuation shelters by the end of March to protect civilians in the event of a foreign attack.

Meanwhile, Tokyo will construct a major underground bomb shelter under the central Azabu-Juban subway station in Tokyo’s Minato Ward. “We have prepared other evacuation facilities in the past, but considering how rocky international affairs are right now we think it’s important to prepare for the serious and significant threat of ballistic missiles,” Tokyo governor Yuriko Koike told The Japan Times.

On Feb. 12, Japan conducted a defense drill simulating a ballistic missile attack on Ishigaki Island, part of Japan’s southwestern Nansei Island chain, 186 miles from Taiwan.

On Feb. 14, Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara met with U.S. Ambassador Rahm Emanuel. The two officials affirmed the commitment of Japan and the United States to work together to strengthen defense capabilities.

Further, next month the U.S. military is set to train Japan’s Self-Defense Forces on the use of Tomahawk cruise missiles purchased from the United States. On Jan. 18, Japan inked a deal to purchase 400 of the Tomahawk missiles, which can be used to attack enemy missile launch sites, giving Japan a countermeasure capability.

At a press conference on the 18th, Mr. Emmanuel praised the move, saying, “As aggressors grow more and more belligerent, Japan is at the forefront of countries rallying to protect peace and prosperity by raising the costs of aggression.”

US Army’s Planned Transformation

In October 2023, Gen. Charles Flynn, commanding general of the United States Army Pacific, expressed concern about China’s threat over the next decade.“What they’ve done over the last 10 years and what they’re signaling and intending to do over the next 10 years should be concerning for all of us,” he said, at the Strategic Landpower Dialogue, co-hosted by the Association of the U.S. Army and the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

China is on a “dangerous path,” Gen. Flynn said.

He stressed the “important mission” of the U.S. army in the Indo-Pacific. In the face of the ever-challenging CCP aggression, the Army is now embarking on the biggest transformation in decades.

Unveiled last fall, Army 2030 is the U.S. military’s multi-year plan to maintain warfighting readiness and to adapt equipment and organization to better face major adversaries. The Army 2030 plan follows the priorities provided in the 2022 National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy, which identified China, Russia, North Korea, Iran, and various terrorist groups as acute and persistent threats.

The U.S. Army’s Multi-Domain Task Force (MDTF), is designed to enhance deployment capabilities in the Pacific region and deter the CCP from expanding strategically to the point where it could start a war.

The MDTF is the centerpiece of the Army’s effort to address the threats posed to national security by operating in a multi-domain environment: air, land, water, space, and cyberspace. The first MDTF unit was established in 2017. Currently, there are MDTF units in Washington State, Hawaii, and Germany.

In November, U.S. military units including the MDTF conducted live-fire exercises with the High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS), which can fire precision long-range missiles, in Palau in the western Pacific Ocean.

There are increasing concerns about China’s assertive maritime presence in the island’s vicinity. Palau’s president announced in September that the United States and Palau were discussing the permanent deployment of advanced missile defense systems to the island.

The exercises were part of the U.S. Army’s MDTF training, which is designed to prepare American troops for rapid combat readiness on the islands in the event of an emergency.

Island war was originally the combat mission of the Marine Corps, but the Army is being transformed into a force capable of fighting on the islands.

To counter China, the U.S. Army is deploying precision and long-range missiles for the MDTF, and in the near future it plans to deploy hypersonic weapons with a range of over 2,700 kilometers.

The U.S. Army is also expanding joint military drills with Southeast Asian countries and actively building back support systems.

Last month, Gen. Flynn told Japanese public broadcaster NHK that the United States can counter China in solidarity with its allies. “I think the binding together of the land-power network is the counterweight against the irresponsible, insidious behavior of the PRC,” he said.

Japan’s Advancing Military Technology

From late January to early February, Japan’s Ministry of Defense held a new weapons and military technology exhibition in Tokyo to “promote participation in the defense industry,” to foster the participation of start-up companies in Japan’s defense industry.

A total of 40 start-up companies participated in the exhibition. In his opening remarks, Yasuhiro Takami, a member of Japan’s parliament and the Ministry of Defense’s special advisor, emphasized that the use of cutting-edge technology is critical to national defense. He said, “Japan will actively and rapidly utilize the cutting-edge technologies from startup companies and continue to procure defense equipment for new combat needs.”

Japan has announced in three national security documents, including the National Security Strategy formulated in December 2022, that it will actively utilize cutting-edge technologies from the private sector for the research and development of military equipment. The Defense Technology Guidelines 2023 released by Japan’s Ministry of Defense in June last year specifically called for strengthening cooperation with startup companies.

The Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency of Japan’s Ministry of Defense will establish a new research institute in 2024 to link cutting-edge technologies such as AI and drones with weapons development. Following the example of the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Defense Innovation Unit (DIU), which created technologies such as the internet and the Global Positioning System (GPS), Japan plans to actively introduce technologies from startup companies.

The Japanese government plans to spend about 43 trillion yen (about $302 billion) over the next five years to 2027, significantly increasing its annual defense budget. Mitsubishi Heavy Industries forecasts that the sales of defense equipment in the fiscal year 2026 are expected to reach 1 trillion yen ($6.7 billion), more than double the sales in previous years.