Five years after Japan’s government relaxed arms export controls

Five years after Japan’s government relaxed arms export controls, the nation’s military contractors have yet to make major breakthroughs in overseas markets, experts and officials noted at a conference, which was billed as the country’s first fully integrated defence trade show.

That’s despite having a variety of high-tech skills and resources that could greatly benefit its partners, and in effect helping, partner nations cope with the rapid developments in China’s weapons systems.

Hirokazu Hokazono, deputy commissioner and chief defence scientist at the Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency of the Japanese Ministry of Defence, said, “The security environment is evolving at extremely high speed.” More influential regional rivals like China are developing cross-domain technology and Japan must keep pace, he said at the DSEI Japan conference near Tokyo. Like the Pentagon, cyber, electromagnetic spectrum and space have been listed by the MoD as potential conflict areas along with sea, air and land.

The ATLA has identified six top R&D priorities that the department will invest in, he said. These are: cyber; underwater technologies; electronic warfare; hypersonic; continuous broad-area information, surveillance and recognition; and operations on the network.

The aim is to turn the Japan Self-Defense Force into a “multi-domain defence force,” and to improve Japan-U.S. capabilities. Alliance to deter threats and fight them, he said. To do that, he said, his military research and development needs to shift emphasis from a platform-centred approach to a “capability-oriented one.”

Most of Japan’s advanced technologies are known to have originated in the commercial sector — such as material sciences and robotics. The military needs to harness and incorporate these new products into its defence systems, Hokazono said.

China, meanwhile, is rapidly expanding its military capabilities. If Japan is not able to keep up, it could lose its edge over potential rivals, he said. “More significantly, we are sweeping up those technologies and incorporating them into our defence development programs,” he said.