US-Japan Security Relations Japan Sans Ballistic Missiles

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Columnist Col (Retd) EAS BOKHARI writes about US-Japan relations without ballistic missilesbased in Japan

As usual Japan celebrated their Defence Day - or more precisely - Japan Self-Defence Forces Day on 25 June 1999. It was in any case a very sultry day for any celebration. And then the Kargil syndrome seemed to be the centre piece of most of what the participants talked about.

There was of course a lot of brass - and ex-brass around the place, and it appeared that the consensus of the opinion was that both sides involved in the Kargil were prisoners of geography.

This is the day - and I don't know why the Japanese call it Self-Defence Day (and not just Defence Day) when the new Defence Attaches are also inducted in the Japanese Embassy. So both the old one i.e. the venerable - and visibly pacifist Col Mokato Mukaibo as well as the new inductee Col Shinji Sasaki were present in the function. Mukaibo is a gunner - and surprisingly Sasaki belongs to the Corps of Military Police. I am sure he must be either intelligence trained or at least must have attended the Staff College in Tokyo.

I had a number of verbal skirmishes with Col Mukaibo - whom I have known for the last three years or so as a forthright plain soldier. I have a perception that the Japanese somehow hate the word 'militarism'. This is especially so in the case of post Nagasaki Hiroshima brood of officers and diplomats. They just hate all type of aggression - and yet ironically they have a sizeable and well-equipped army which is equipped on American style sans nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles.

The above situation appears specially discouraging in view of the 31 August 1998's North Korean firing of their ballistic missile Taepo Dong which has an estimated range of some 1500-2000 Kilometers (Km). The monster flew over parts of Japan - and landed in the sea 300 Km South East of Vladivostok. It must have been an eye opener for Japan - and USA too as it is their mutual military cooperation which I suppose sustains Japan militarily. Japan as the whole world knows is a force without arms and spends no more than 1 per cent of its GNP on defence. (But then comparatively with some of the Third World countries who spend a sizeable chunk of their GNP on defence - Japan's GNP is fairly great.)

The North Korean missile - and possibly nuclear venture is surely troublesome for Japan - perhaps a fresh reminder for their vulnerability. Yoshi Mori has said this about this incident '...We have been trying to forge peaceful and friendly relations with North Korea, but the firing of the missile is nothing but betrayal....'

Analyst Cameron W Barr has written thus about the incident '...The day after North Korea sent a ballistic missile arcing over the Northern part of Japan. Officials in Tokyo acknowledged that Japan was entirely dependent on the US for information about the test. It also had to admit that its defence against missiles - the Patriot system used (against oldish Scud B - parenthesis mine) by the US in the Gulf War - is inadequate against the type North Korea demonstrated....'

Perhaps the best antidote to a missile is a missile i.e. an 'anti-missile missile' - but the Japanese constitution precisely prohibits fabricating offensive and aggressive weaponry. There was some progress on a mini-SDI (Strategic Defence Initiative) of President Reagan - now known as Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) in which Japan was to be coopted - but little progress seems to have been made in this respect too.

There appears to be a lot of ambivalence and hesitation about the TMD - project which is quite costly and the analysts generally think that there is going to be little shift in the way the Japanese think about their security.

As much as the Japanese are sometimes frustrated by their frailties and reliance on America, they know that for now it must be thus '...Nothing will change fundamentally,' says Akira Kato - a defence specialist at Obirin University in Tokyo. '...The dependence on the US will always be there.' According to a 1960 Treaty, the USA is bound to defend Japan from attack.

And finally - a recent study at the Uppsala University Department of Peace and Conflict Research and Centre of Pacific Asia Studies by Dr Masako Ikegami - Andersson - the US-Japanese collaboration and co-production of three state of the art defence projects i.e. - SDI, FS-X/F-2 Fighter aircraft and the TMD have not been harmonious.

In spite of the proponents like Professor Kato - who is all for TMD - the current Japanese economic situation perhaps does not permit this venture.

'There have been reports in the Japanese newspapers that the government is holding back a TDM- related budget request for fear of offending China - but the senior government officials say that the delay is due to the need for continued study of US proposals - for Japan's participation....'

Although Japan has missile launch capability - and has also launched satellites - but all that appears to be for peaceful and research purposes.

Japan had tried - in fact it was the US who had initiated the famous SDI (Strategic Defence Initiative) programme - and Japan was to play some part in this too. More details about this misadventure are contained in the paragraphs that follow. Even now a sort of mini- or more sensible anti-ballistic missile programme is under consideration in which Japanese cooperation has been sought by USA.

It appears that all the three major US-Japanese co-production state of the art defence production projects have not been concluded to desired full fruition.

US - SDI & Japan

SDI (Strategic Defence Initiative) - or the Star Wars as the more flamboyant journalists called it was perhaps the most grandiose practical step which President Reagan had wished to take to end the cold war which had persisted throughout the eighties - and then died its natural death just before the Gulf War 1991.

President Reagan, I am sure, was a non-scientist - but he was terribly obsessed with his massive plan of things - and perhaps thought that whatever is thinkable is possible with American technology. At least his launching of SDI - and his monumental address to the American nation of 23 March 1983 clearly speaks of this.

At the cost of some repetition he said to the American nation '...What if free people could live secure in the knowledge that their security did not rest upon the threat of instant US retaliation to deter a Soviet attack, that we could intercept and destroy strategic ballistic missiles before they reached our own soil or that of our allies ... I call upon the scientific community in our country, those who gave us the nuclear weapons to turn their great talents now to the cause of mankind and world peace, to give us the means of rendering these nuclear weapons impotent and obsolete...' The scientists - worldover did their best but this grand idea could not be translated into a viable and efficient destructive technology. Directed energy weapons were not just cost effective.

This short presentation deals with the US overtures towards Japan (and some other allies who were technically well advanced) to pool their resources and produce a viable - and practical space based system which could deal with hostile missiles - preferable with laser incineration from a space (satellite) platform.

As it is - a sort of US- Japanese military technology had existed since 1980 - and the US and Japan had co-produced many major weapons - more significantly the F-4, F-15 and O-3C (Orion). And yet another more important example was the technical collaboration in the much debated FS-X aircraft (to be built in Japan.)

According to a knowledgeable analyst '...It often involved a kind of compromise between Japan's search for indigenous military development and production, and the US interests in selling American weapon systems 'off-the-shelf' to Japan.'

The US Congress Office of Technical Assessment (OTA) notes: '...Massive technology transfers have taken place from the United States to Japan under existing programmes. Licensed production of a variety of types of US military aircraft has contributed to the development of a core of Japanese companies skilled in diverse aspects of aircraft production ... These programmes have also stimulated critical industries such as electronics and materials through generous technology transfers....'

But I suppose a formal invitation to Japan to participate in the (not yet perfected) SDI technologies was extended by the then US Defence Secretary Weinberger in March 1985. The NATO allies as well as Australia, Israel - and South Korea were also included in this gargantuan venture which appeared so seductive to all including the USA - but ended in a fiasco as it was not scientifically viable. Even for a country like USA it was not cost effective. And on the feasibility side some of the renowned scientists like Dr Hans Bethe had termed it as science fiction. USC (Union of Concerned Scientists) a US think tank was deadly against this venture purely from scientific point of view. They argued that it was not quite possible to have a gigantic satellite in the space from where heavy doses of laser energy could be darted on the incoming hostile missiles. It was just not on technically. - perhaps more wishful thinking than a viable scientific venture.

Even USA signed an MoA (Memoranda of Agreement) with Japan in 1987 and some 67 contracts were awarded to foreign countries for SDI architectures. I'm not sure what Japan got out of these.

Edward Teller - and Gen Scowcroft seem to have had a very great influence on President Reagan in so far as the viability of this gigantic - and epoch making programme was concerned.

1983 - incidentally was a time of the greatest triumph of Japanese Prime Minister Nakasone - and the Nakasone initiative 'has important side benefits of removing industry concerns about approval of transfer of dual-use technology for military application.' Nakasone made several breakthroughs in Japan's defence policy, prominently lifting 'the 1 per cent GNP ceiling' on the defence budget. Apparently the US Government took advantage of Prime Minister Nakasone's unique standing as a Japanese politician - 'Strong and decisive enough to disregard prior Japanese consensus.'

His cabinet made the following meaningful statement in 1983: '... In view of the new situation which has been brought about by the recent advance of technology in Japan, it has become extremely important for Japan to reciprocate in the exchange of defence-related technologies in order to ensure the effective operation of the Japanese-US Security Treaty and its related arrangements ... The Japanese Government has decided to respond positively to the US request for exchange of defence-related technologies and to open a way for the transfer to the US 'military technologies' (including arms which are necessary to make such transfers effective ... such transfer of military technologies will not be subject to the Three Principles on Arms Export ... The implementation of such transfer will be made within the framework of relevant provisions of the MDA Agreement....'

The US-Japan SDI Nexus

Notwithstanding the very rigid and non-militaristic (perhaps pacifistic) Japanese constitution - the Japanese government and the large Japanese companies did show reasonable interest in this new US venture of 'Star Wars'. Technology is a double edged weapon and it can be used against you. One of the saner French heads of the state had opined that the best way of losing money is on technology - though the most pleasurable one is on women. Gambling too falls in this category of lavish losses.

Japan constituted a board of 21 companies - a sort of a joint government-industrial board and 'based on the reports from the delegations, the government discussed the matter at an ad hoc ministerial meeting which was held six times, and concluded that it was appropriate to deal with Japan's participation in SDI research within the framework of the Japanese-US security arrangements and the 1983 and 1985 agreements for military technology exchange.' On 9 September 1986, the Japanese government stated '...our participation in this research programme will lead to further enhancement of mutual cooperation between our two countries under the Japan-US Security Treaty, and thus is conducive to the effective operations of Japan-US security systems.'

The Japanese government in fact encouraged the Japanese industry to transfer dual-use technology to US. But then this had a drawback and 'if some dual-use technology originally developed in Japan is improved or modified for US military technology, Japanese industry cannot produce or sell, without US consent, any hardware made through the retransferred but originally Japanese technology. 'This was of a very considerable concern for the Japanese industry, and a drawback of co-production.'

However in spite of this state of doubt - and perhaps embarrassment - the 'Substance of Arrangements Relating to Japan's Participation' in the SDI Research was signed on July 27, 1987. - See Defence of Japan 1988 p331.

Some of the Heavy Weights in Japan like the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) showed extraordinary keen interest in SDI. The company 'has tried hard to develop in software technology capacity since the time of its participation in the SDI project.... MHI actively carried out the West Pacific Missile Defence Architecture Study (WESTPAC) in 1988-89- as general version of SDI. The company had expected that the programme would be developed for Japan's entire air defence system - thus offering the chance of a big business.'

Some Japanese analysts (Tachibana) points out that the licenced production of much trumpeted and talked about 'Patriot' might have been relevant to the SDI research participation. Some 17 companies including the mighty MHI, NEC, Toshiba, Hitachi and Nissan share major contracts for production of the Patriot and its components, and these companies expected to have an opportunity to learn relevant technologies from SDI research, and even a business chance for the post-Patriot defence system.

It is interesting to note that with the medium range ballistic missiles now available with North Korea - US Patriot batteries have been deployed in Japan as a deterrence.

Continuing with the disillusionment of the Japanese companies - many of the dual-use products could be subject to US security regulations through SDI collaboration - as the patent rights of such technologies would be held by USA. Japanese industry thus gradually started realising that the SDI entailed a 'high tech war' rather than 'Star Wars' for the industry - See Nihon Keizai Shimbun of 21 February 1986.

WESTPAC - as mentioned earlier on was a feasibility study to identify and prepare a 'highly viable theatre missile defence capability for the US overseas forward deployed forces and US Allies and friendly nations.' It will be too tedious for the general reader to grasp the technicalities of these studies which had four phases of research - and the system was named as Theatre Missile Defence (TMD) a sort of a downsized SDI.

WESTPAC was a very comprehensive plan - and then luckily for the world - the Cold War ended - and naturally the WESTPAC had to shift its emphasis from various missile threats exclusively to theatre missile proliferation and other weapons of mass destruction and the grand scheme of SDI went into oblivion forever.

I suppose some of the heavy weights of the Japanese industry like MHI - and MHI - led consortiums like MELCO (Mitsubishi Electronics) - NEC, Hitachi, Fujitsu Japan Radio Corporation, Mitsubishi Space Software, and Mitsubishi Corporation could play a very important part in the scheme of things - but then who could predict such a sudden end of the Cold War.

Of course, both sides i.e. the USA and the Japanese had interest in certain type of technologies - although the Japanese military technologies were in fact US derived - (and function of that) - the real useful Japanese technologies of US interest were such Japanese technologies as gallium- arsenide devices, microwave integrated circuits, fibre optics communications, millimeter waves, flat displays, ceramics, composite materials, rocket propulsion etc.

Finally, it is interesting to see the motives of USA and Japan for this technological nexus which are well described in the following paragraph: '...Technologically, the call for international collaboration on SDI did not succeed more than the tapping science and technology of other countries, which the United States had done for decades ... In turn, US Allies showed strong interest in access to US state of the art technology through SDI collaboration. In this sense, SDI collaboration became a 'flexible-sum game' for both the United States and allies ... Japan was one of the countries which decided to join SDI research collaboration, mainly out of interest in advanced technology rather than its strategic and security effects.'

The FS-X/F2 Co-development Project

The Japanese FS-X/F-2 (F-2) or in more mundane language - the next generation Japanese fighters aircraft - and its co-development is of much controversy - or I should say a subject of major clash of interest of technologies. This could be considered as a sort of trade war between USA and Japan since 1980s. In a layman's lingo this collaboration may be termed as an upgradation of the F-16 US aircraft with state of the art Japanese technology. From the published material on this rather prestigious programme, the following aspects are quite significant:

  • It is the first Japanese-US attempt to co-develop defence equipment and therefore is a turning point in the post-1945 history of Japanese R&D.
  • The FS-X has ignited a tense political controversy between the USA and Japan.
  • This controversy had activated a security debate both in the USA and Japan as the Cold War was ending.
  • Unfortunately the analyses of the FS-X controversy have mainly been conducted by the Americans.

By all estimations it was hoped that the refurbished F-2 will be in the air by the year 2000 - but it appears that the problem of technology transfers (both ways) - and the interest of actors involved in the project may not allow this to happen. Quoting a knowledgeable writer Masako Ikegami Anderson of the Uppsala University Sweden. '... Politico- Sociological analysis of the FS-X controversy based on the comparison may give a different picture from a spread image of the dispute. This will illustrate the fact that the FS-X dispute became aggravated, in part, because of a lack of information and effective communication between the political leaders in the two countries. This created a wide perception gap - and even affected US-Japanese relations.

The FS-X 'is a Japanese fighter support-experimental aircraft which was meant to replace the obsolete support jet aircraft F-I (first Japanese indigenous aircraft deployed in 1975) The FS-X development project was launched by the Japanese Defence Agency (JDA) in 1988 ... This aircraft is to be fitted with new advanced technologies such as extensive composite construction (single piece composite wings), phased array radar and stealth characteristics. Most of these technologies have been developed in Japan through the cooperative efforts of the Technical Research Development Institute (TRDI) and R&D Branch of the JDA - and a prime contractor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), together with Mitsubishi Electronics Co (MELCO).' I suppose it was an easy way for the Americans to sell a major weapon system to balance their huge trade deficit with Japan.

The project envisaged '... the FS-X to become the first example of a joint Japanese-American development project concerning military equipment. According to the plan, Japan would remodel more than 70 per cent of the current General Dynamics F-16 airframe design, which essentially meant designing an almost totally different aircraft'. (See Aviation Week and Space Technology, 20 March 1989.) An MoU on FS-X co-development was signed by Japan and USA in November 1988 - which was substantially revised through 'clarifications' of the 1988 MoU in 1989.

It is here from where the controversies started. Among the issues which were included in the clarifications were the American restrictions on the transfer of flight control software technology which Japan wanted most. Furthermore, a guarantee was made to ensure a greater American share in the work as well as a flow back of newly developed technology from Japan to the US. According to the agreement MHI was to be the prime contractors and General Dynamics (Now Lockheed) a principal sub-contractor. Fuji Heavy Industries (FHI) and Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) were also named as principal sub-contractors. General Dynamics and its subcontractors would have 40 per cent of the development and MHI would receive the rest.

As far as the disposal of these aircrafts were concerned Japan's Air Self-Defence Forces (ASDF) planned to procure 72 FS-Xs (now called the F-2) to replace the ageing F-Is between 1996 and 2001 - and perhaps more for various missions.

There were very high hopes of this project being successful and according to M. Yamamoto Director of Machinery and Information Industries Bureau (MITI) ... 'the idea is a fusion of excellent high technologies both from Japan and USA, and it is the best way in terms of costs and benefits ... The JDA has to seek efficient R&D within the framework of 'senshu Boei' (strictly minimal defence capability for national defence), the GNP 1 per cent ceiling of defence expenditure - and the ban on arms exports. 'In other words, FS-X co-development turned out to be a practical choice for the JDA in terms of cost performance, focusing its limited R&D resources on specific technologies for the aircraft.

Notwithstanding the lack of interministry consensus in Japan and controversial decision making in USA - the project does not seem to have 'died'. The JDA Annual White Paper 1993 (Boei Hakushu) has noted that 'such a Japan-US Joint R&D venture as the FS-X efficiently develops equipment by integrating the two countries' excellent technologies, and it further promotes Japan-US security cooperation. (Boei Hakushu 1993 p-102.)

I had tried today to check up the present status of this magical aircraft from Colonel Makato Mukaibo - the Defence Attache of the Embassy of Japan - and was informed that the aircraft is still in the 'experimental' stage. What would be its final performance and profile is a matter of guess.

Finally, there is no doubt that the deal was not a model cooperation deal - and the negative experiences of the deal and its conduct do not necessarily deny any further military R&D collaboration between the United States and Japan. If carefully arranged, based on mutual respect and understanding, future US-Japan co-development is probable - and may be equally rewarding.

*The writer is thankful to Ms Masako Ikegami - Andersson Uppsala University Sweden for assistance while doing this presentation from her Second Ph.D presentation 'Military Technology and US-Japan Security Relations - A Study of three cases of Military R&D Collaboration - 1983-1998.'