The United States and Japan announced on Thursday that defense relations are being strengthened for the first time in 16 years, including new force deployments and greater cooperation against missile and cyber attacks.
The closer military and defense relations come amid growing tensions in Asia over China’s maritime encroachment in the region, which military officials fear could trigger a future conflict.
New missile defenses, the addition of two squadrons of MV-22 tilt rotor transport aircraft, and deployment of three Global Hawk long-range drone aircraft are key elements of the new ties. New P-8 anti-submarine warfare aircraft and advanced F-35 jets also will be deployed in Japan.
Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said the closer ties come as the security environment in the Asia-Pacific region “is becoming increasingly severe,” including tensions with China over its claims to Japan’s Senkaku islands.
At a press conference, Kishida noted the threat environment also includes advances in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, “coercion in the seas”—an indirect reference to China—and threats to space and cyberspace.
Chinese naval ships and air force jets and drones have been operating very close to Japan as part of Beijing’s effort to gain control over the disputed islands, which China calls the Diaoyu and are located south of Japan’s Okinawa and north of Taiwan.
“Specifically, in order for us to effectively respond to these changing security environments, Japan and United States must share the same values, should realize an even stronger alliance relationship, and play an even stronger, larger responsibility to the region and the international community,” Kishida said.
The upgraded ties come as Japan also is seeking to organize several states in Asia that are facing coercion from China or are engaged in maritime disputes.
A formal review of the new guidelines will be completed by the end of next year to expand cooperation in 15 areas. The review will also speed up an earlier agreement to transfer of 5,000 Marines now based on Okinawa to the Pacific island of Guam, with Japan paying $3.1 billion for the troop shift by 2020.
A key element of the upgraded alliance includes an agreement to set up a joint Cyber Defense Policy Working Group. According to a fact sheet, the group will foster “increased cyber defense cooperation with the improvement of individual cyber capabilities and interoperability between the [Japan] Self-Defense forces and U.S. forces, which will also contribute to whole-of-government cybersecurity efforts.”
Additionally, improved cooperation in space was announced, specifically intelligence-sharing involving what the military calls “space situational awareness” identifying and tracking military threats to satellites and spacecraft.
China is developing space warfare capabilities that include ground-launched anti-satellite missiles, lasers and maneuvering satellites. U.S. officials said China last week conducted the first capture of one satellite by another, using a robotic arm. The test is a key feature of space warfare capabilities, the officials said.
Increased intelligence sharing also will be part of the new defense relationship. A new U.S.-Japan Defense ISR Working Group was created. ISR stands for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, and is a key tool used in advance war-fighting.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, appearing with Kishida, said U.S. support for Japan’s security is a critical element of the U.S. government’s shift to Asia, known as the pivot.
“Our goal is a more balanced and effective alliance, one where our two militaries are full partners, working side by side with each other and with other regional partners to enhance peace and stability,” Hagel said of the upgrading of defense ties.
As part of the upgraded ties, the two countries will set up a new working group to deal with cyber security, a major challenged faced by both the United States and Japan who have been attacked repeatedly by Chinese hackers, including those linked to the Chinese military, who have engaged in cyber espionage and cyber reconnaissance—preparation for future cyber strikes during a crisis or war time.
Hagel said the defense review will apply “new technologies and capabilities” to enhance security, including in both space and cyber space.
“Cyber cooperation in particular has emerged as a focus area for the alliance,” Hagel said.
Missile defense cooperation also will be increased, Hagel said, noting formal announcement of plans to deploy a second high-powered missile defense radar, known as TPY-2, near Kyoto. The first X-band radar was deployed earlier on Japan’s northern Hokkaido.
“This additional radar will bolster our ability to defend the U.S. homeland and in Japan against North Korean ballistic missiles, and it enhances an important 21st century alliance capability,” Hagel said.
Hagel and Kishida, who appeared along with Secretary of State John Kerry and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, sought to play down the threat posed by China in their remarks.
On China, Kerry said: “We seek to have a relationship with China that’s based on an understanding of the ways in which we can find cooperation on the major issues. There will be differences. We acknowledge that there will be those differences.”
None of the officials mentioned China’s large-scale military buildup, including its nuclear, missile, and submarine modernization. Most nations in Asia and Japan in particular, in the past have voiced concerns about the buildup.
Kerry repeated the U.S. position on the Senkakus that Washington does not take a position on the sovereignty, but that Japan is recognized as the current administrator of the uninhabited islands that have large deposits of undersea gas and oil sought by both Tokyo and Beijing. In the past, the Pentagon has invoked the U.S.-Japan defense alliance to warn China against seeking to take over the islands.
Kishida, during a speech to the United Nations last week, called on China to be more open about its nuclear buildup.
The comments drew a harsh response from China. A Foreign Ministry spokesman said China is the most transparent about its nuclear forces.
U.S. officials, however, have said Chinese officials refused to discuss any details on the numbers, types, security controls and use guidelines for its nuclear forces.
A senior Obama administration official who briefed reporters in Tokyo on the new defense guidelines said the goal is to modernize the alliance to better address 21st century security challenges.
The new guidelines will create a framework for roles and missions of U.S. and Japanese forces during peacetime and operations, the official said, noting that missile defense cooperation is a second major focus of the upgraded defense relations.
On cyber cooperation, the senior official said: “We are just exchanging generally information about the challenges that we see out there and then how we can more effectively cooperate to meet the threat.”
“The cyber is certainly an important dimension of this,” the official added. “The foundation to all of this is information security and information protection more broadly. So that’s also an important line of effort in the U.S.-Japan alliance, ensuring that our practices, our standards, our procedures are as strong and robust as they can be, because that’s the foundation for everything else that we do together.”
Richard Fisher, a China military affairs expert, said the upgraded guidelines are the first since 1997.
When the guidelines were last upgraded, Washington was seeking assurances from Tokyo following China’s threatening missile tests bracketing Taiwan.
“In 2013, it is Tokyo that is seeking assurance of support from Washington now that China is militarily challenging Japan’s control over the Senkaku Islands,” said Fisher with the International Assessment and Strategy Center.
The new MV-22s will deter China from seeking any military incursions on the Senkakus by China, “the Osprey currently can put troops and weapons on the Senkakus twice as fast as [China’s] Bison hovercraft,” Fisher said, adding that China is now developing its own tilt rotor aircraft.