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Following the phenomenal success of my piece on Japan’s Future Fighters, I have decided to look at another element of Japan’s forces: the Main Battle Tank (MBT). Japan’s military forces (or if we don’t want to get caught up in semantic arguments: defence forces) are undergoing a change in posture reflecting the increased weakening of Article 9 of the Japanese Post-War Constitution. Japan’s current MBT is the Type-90 (T-90).

Japan\'s Current Main Battle Tank

The T-90 was built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which produces among other things licensed defence products such as the PATRIOT anti-ballistic missile platform, the F-15J, and the F-2. It entered service in 1990 (hence the moniker). It is relatively lightweight at 50.2 tonnes when compared to the superlative M1 Abrams (61.4 tonnes), Challenger 2 (62.5 tonnes), or Merkava (65 tonnes), as well as having a smaller profile. The introduction of an ammunition auto-loader eliminated the need for a fourth crewman, one of the first tanks to do so. Its 120mm smoothbore cannon design is produced under license from the German company Rheinmetall, which is also found in both the Merkava and Abrams, but the rest of the design and production is wholly homegrown. It uses multi-layered armour, combined with modular ceramic composite armour, particularly on the frontal areas. In addition, the system has benefited from laser and thermal-guided gun and turret controls, supposedly one of the best fire control systems in the world.

Line Drawing of T-90

The T-90 reflects Japan’s role in the Cold War and its own image of its post-Cold War role, essentially the defence of the Japanese islands against a conventional armed attack. It was designed and built to operate across the range of environments in Japan as an anti-tank weapon. However, with its design over 20 years old, and the concept nearly 30, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries has picked up the TK-X or Type-10 (T-10).

The T-10 addresses some of the flaws of the T-90. The weight of the T-90 restricted its operations to Hokkaido as Japanese road laws forbade the use of the heavy transporter trailers needed to cart the tank around the country. The TK-X fundamentally weighs 40 tonnes and can be carried on standard commercial trailers. Furthermore, the T-90 had vertical turret boards that were likely to absorb the brunt of an anti-tank weapon whereas the T-10 has been designed with sloped turret boards to deflect some of the impact. Furthermore, the T-10 allows for more significant side armour by way of modular components.

44-ton Configuration of the T-10

What the T-90 did well, in many cases the T-10 is designed to do those things just a little bit better. It is a mid-generation (‘3.5 generation’) tank continuing the trend towards armour vs. armour conceptions of defence despite the possibility of a wider role for the GSDF in coming years. This particular future MBT may thus, in some ways, be outdated by the time it enters service (if trends continue).

To be fair, however, Japan’s current peacekeeping role better suits medium- or light-armoured vehicles. It is in the future procurement of these systems that we will see how well the SDF has taken onboard expectations of Japanese capabilities in peacekeeping operations. Until that time, we can assume that it is business as usual at the GSDF.


The race is now on, and it is between Fukuda and Aso, with Fukuda ahead. Both candidates put forward their views on Japanese international relations, and it is worth a read:

Aso, Fukuda agree on refueling mission, but differ on N Korea, Yasukuni
Saturday, September 15, 2007 at 17:25 EDT
Kyodo News

TOKYO – Former Chief Cabinet Secretary Yasuo Fukuda and Liberal Democratic Party Secretary General Taro Aso clashed over issues surrounding North Korea and Tokyo’s war-related Yasukuni Shrine as they kicked off a dove-versus-hawk duel Saturday for the Sept 23 party presidency election to succeed Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

But Fukuda and Aso offered little differences in their policy platforms over other issues in a joint news conference, with both agreeing on the need to extend an antiterrorism refueling mission in the Indian Ocean and vowing to continue the course of structural reforms albeit with policy adjustments where necessary to revive local economies.

The ruling LDP’s election appears to be a done deal with Fukuda as the winner having already garnered widespread factional support to succeed Abe, 52, who on Wednesday abruptly announced his intention to step down and was subsequently hospitalized.

On Japan’s position on North Korea, especially in dealing with the unresolved abductions of Japanese nationals, Fukuda called for a flexible stance while maintaining the “dialogue and pressure” approach to resolve the issue.

“We must devise some means to convey to the other side our desire and readiness to conduct negotiations,” Fukuda, 71, said at the joint press conference held after the two officially filed candidacies at the LDP headquarters in Tokyo.

But Aso, who was foreign minister under both administrations of Abe and his predecessor Junichiro Koizumi, defended the pressure-oriented approach as the correct way and that it has achieved results.

“The abductions were the extreme of inhumanity,” said Aso, who shares many of Abe’s hawkish and conservative views. “We have learnt from experience that we won’t get to negotiations without pressure.”

On Yasukuni, which enshrines 14 Class-A war criminals along with the war dead, Fukuda said he wants to realize the plan to build a secular national memorial facility to commemorate the war dead.

Fukuda, who has been pursuing the plan since 2002 when he was chief Cabinet secretary, said earlier on Saturday when announcing his candidacy that he will not go to the controversial Shinto shrine to avoid upsetting Asian neighbors that suffered from Japanese wartime aggressions.

Meanwhile, Aso stressed that even if a new memorial facility is built, it would not be a replacement for Yasukuni. But he did not make clear whether he will visit the shrine.

On other issues, however, the two shared similar views. Both vowed to rebuild public trust in the party and to create a society where Japan’s graying population can live at ease, in an apparent reference to growing concerns over the sustainability of the public pension system and the possibility of a consumption tax hike.

Both candidates said they will seek to extend the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s refueling mission to support U.S.-led antiterrorism operations in and around Afghanistan.

Fukuda said he intends to consult closely with the main opposition Democratic Party of Japan and others to convince them to agree to the extension.

Aso said he will pursue a new law or other options to continue the mission beyond the Nov 1 legal deadline, noting that simply seeking an extension of the current special antiterrorism law is “quite” difficult due to strong rejection by the opposition side.

The refusal by the DPJ, which overtook the LDP as the largest party in the House of Councillors in the July 29 election, to agree to the extension was one of main reasons cited by Abe in his sudden resignation announcement. The opposition camp can delay the passage of legislation with its DPJ-led majority in the upper house.

Whoever wins will face the daunting task of steering the party through the current political deadlock with the DPJ-led opposition camp, including the imminent showdown in parliament over legislation to extend the refueling mission.

Fukuda has gained support by many LDP members in all nine factions except a small one led by Aso, 66. Public opinion in a recent Kyodo News poll also favored Fukuda 28.1% to 18.7% for Aso.

Another key issue in the LDP election will be how to shore up the party base after the devastating setback in the July election where the ruling coalition of the LDP and New Komeito party lost its upper house majority.

Earlier in the morning, Fukuda said in officially announcing his candidacy, “The current circumstances were certainly unexpected…After listening to the recommendations by many who supported my running in the race and the ensuing encouragement, I felt strongly that I must shoulder the responsibility to face this difficult situation.”

Fukuda repeatedly said he plans to seek talks with the DPJ, including its leader Ichiro Ozawa, to gain cooperation in parliamentary affairs. He was most notably referring to the refueling mission’s extension and the opposition’s demand for a snap election in the lower house.

Aso announced his candidacy Friday, criticizing the overwhelming factional support for Fukuda as backroom dealing by the other faction leaders and a “regression to old LDP politics, but vowing to “fight fairly and squarely till the end” despite being in a disadvantaged position.

Aso indicated he aims to campaign for the support of those unaffiliated with any factions, as well as the party rank and file.

The winner is assured of Japan’s premiership as the LDP controls the country’s lower house, which has final say in appointing the prime minister. The new party leader’s term will last until September 2009.

Both Fukuda and Aso come from famous political families – the former a son of former Prime Minister Takeo Fukuda and the latter a grandson of former Prime Minister Shigeru Yoshida.

Both held key posts under Abe’s predecessor Koizumi, with Fukuda as chief Cabinet secretary and Aso as foreign minister. But their political ideologies differ in some fields.

The dovish Fukuda favors promoting amicable relations with neighboring countries, while the hawkish Aso is known for his conservative views and controversial remarks that have angered China.

Fukuda and Aso are scheduled to hold a policy debate at LDP headquarters and street campaigns in Tokyo on Sunday. They will campaign in Osaka and Takamatsu in western Japan on Monday, a national holiday, and in the northeastern city of Sendai next Saturday.

Voting will begin at 2 p.m. Sept 23, with the 387 eligible LDP lawmakers each given one ballot and the 47 prefectural chapters given three each to reflect the choices of rank-and-file members.

Fukuda YasuoFukuda is one of the LDP’s old guard. He was Chief Cabinet Secretary to Koizumi and is in large part responsible for the diplomacy that led to the Pyongyang Summit in 2002. With North Korea, he favours the ‘pressure and dialogue’ track which can be attributed to Keizo Obuchi in 1998. This places him resolutely outside the nationalist conservative camp, aligning him closer to Koizumi (who effectively used both aspects of diplomacy while in office). Fukuda has the statesmanship that Abe lacked, a Woodrow Wilson to Abe’s George W. Bush. If Fukuda can take office, then the LDP has rejected the Abe’s Young Turks.

Abe appears to have been a necessary evil, however. He pushed through the normalisation of the Defence Agency to a ministry, and tipped the balance on North Korea so that they will be grateful to see a new face in office. It has often been said that Abe was Koizumi’s ‘bad cop’ at the Pyongyang Summit. I would take this further and suggest that he was the ‘bad cop-PM’ to whatever more moderate leader follows.

I recall the NBR Japan Forum debating this very issue (although with relation to taxes) as the reason that Fukuda withdrew his candidacy last year. Abe was to be a temporary hard-liner who would get the dirty jobs of reassembling the LDP and implements tough policies so that the air would be cleared for a longer-term minister. Perhaps then, we should not underestimate the back-room management of the LDP. If such machinations are at work, then it only goes to show one thing: Japan is going through some interesting times.

From The Japan Times:

’08 defense budget boost eyed for new jets, PAC-3s
Kyodo News
Thursday, Aug. 30, 2007

The Defense Ministry plans to seek ¥4.82 trillion in budgetary appropriations for fiscal 2008, an increase of 0.7 percent from the initial budget for the current fiscal year that began April 1.

The budgetary request, reported Wednesday morning at a joint meeting of defense-related committees of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, includes ¥112.3 billion for upgrading the Air Self-Defense Force’s fleet of fighter jets.

Originally planned for next spring, the selection of next-generation fighters has been delayed because of stalled negotiations with the United States over sales to Japan of the state-of-the-art F-22A Raptor stealth fighter.

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved in late July a draft defense budget for fiscal 2008 that maintains a clause to ban the export of the Raptor.

The move is believed to reflect U.S. concerns about the possible leak of sensitive U.S. technology if the advanced stealth fighter is sold to Japan.

In anticipation of the bid of the next-generation fighter, Japan has its own indigenous project underway: ‘Shinshin’. It has been under development as ATDX at Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, responsible for the infamous Zero, and licensee of many of the ASDF’s fighters: F15J, F2, F1 and F4EJ.

Read More »

Al Jazeera takes a look at Japan’s military future with Robert Dujarric and Hisahiko Okazaki. Worth the watch, particularly because I had no idea Okazaki could speak English.

Part 1

Part 2

via Japan Probe

I’ve had this post on the backburner for a while, and it’s amazing how much relevant news has passed through. However, a couple of days ago I opened up Google Reader (great RSS reader, people) and I found this gem:

Japan to keep secrets from officers with foreign spouses: report
Wed Jun 27, 2:02 AM ET

TOKYO (AFP) – Japan’s navy plans to move officers married to foreigners away from posts with access to military secrets after sensitive data was leaked through an officer with a Chinese wife, a report said Wednesday. […]

The move is aimed at protecting military secrets in the wake of an embarrassing leak of confidential information on the US-developed high-tech Aegis combat system, the conservative daily said.

About 150 officers out of a total of 40,000 are married to foreign nationals, according to the daily. Of them, 100 are Chinese, it said. […]

A 33-year-old petty officer allegedly obtained confidential data on the Aegis system without authorisation. […]

The leak came to light after the officer’s Chinese wife was arrested in January for a visa violation.

However, an unconfirmed newspaper report later said the leak may have occurred by accident when the officer was swapping pornography over the Internet. […]

I had a Japanese acquaintance who swore blind that Japan’s military ills were because of the scourge of the zainichi (ethnic Koreans/Chinese largely born and bred in Japan), particularly the Koreans. For him, the reason the US did not share much technology with the US was because Japan coddled these zainichi who had ties to their motherlands. Now, while there is some truth to his opinion once you get over the xenophobic overtones, I think the main reason that the SDF and Japanese defence industry is kept at bay by the Americans is simple: they do not know how to handle information security!

The main culprit in all this, also suggested in the article above, is Winny, a Japanese peer-to-peer filesharing programme. Rod over at RDV Live from Tokyo reported on a Yomiuri article that stated the programme was implicated in 27 breaches since 2002 within the GSDF alone! I found a copy of the article and present it for your pleasure:

Winny linked to more GSDF data breaches

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Jan. 9, 2007

Members of the Ground Self-Defense Force have inadvertently allowed information to be exposed in 27 cases via the Winny file-sharing program installed on their personal computers between fiscal 2002 and the end of October, sources close the GSDF said Monday.

In addition to the 27 cases, four other cases have previously been brought to light.

The Defense Agency has not released information about any of the data breaches, including what had been disclosed, the sources said.

In four cases, information was exposed after the agency announced measures in April to prevent further incidents.

The information leaks have brought to light lax informational security controls on information the agency had put in place, despite the fact it was to be upgraded to a ministry Tuesday.

According to the sources, GSDF members were involved in security breaches related to Winny once in fiscal 2002, three times in fiscal 2003 and another three times in fiscal 2004, but the number of incidents jumped to 20 in fiscal 2005.

In fiscal 2006, four such security breaches have been confirmed, the sources said.

The information leaks did not include classified documents, but in eight cases, documents, including training data containing sensitive information capable of impeding the execution of plans were disclosed.

Furthermore, data on general operations and personal information, such as lists of GSDF members and related organizations that were compiled and used by individual members, as well as photos were exposed.

Following the February revelation of information leaks on Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers, the agency immediately procured about 56,000 computers for use by SDF members and prohibited members from using their own computers to handle SDF data.

An agency official said the agency’s revelation that information had been exposed could result in more people searching for–and perhaps finding–compromised materials on the Internet, heightening the danger such information could be found and maliciously used.

The leak of information about the Ballistic Missile Defence project and the Aegis systems aboard MSDF Kondo-class vessels has the US worried:

Japan defense leak “serious problem”: U.S. forces
Fri Jun 22, 3:45 AM ET

TOKYO (Reuters) – The leak of data on the missile defense system Japan shares with Washington is a “serious problem,” and both nations must work together to improve security, the U.S. forces commander in Japan urged on Friday. […]

“The stated position of the U.S. government and the U.S. military is that this is a very serious problem,” Bruce Wright, the commander of U.S. forces in Japan, told a news conference.

“The United States remains very committed to working with our Japanese counterparts to make sure … the impact of the leaked information is understood, and together how to improve our operational security and specifically improve the operational security of the Japan Self-Defense Forces, working on it together.” […]

While the US sees Japan as an ally that still doesn’t pull its weight (although this appears to be slowly changing), an ally unwilling to aid its security guarantor through collective defence, and an ally that cannot keep its secrets, Japan will never be treated as an equal in the relationship. That is why Congressman Honda managed to kick up a fuss over the comfort women, and that is why there are fewer and fewer people around to stick up for Japan. It is also the US that is pushing Japan to get the legislation in place to shore up the sieve-like qualities of Japan’s SDF. The US wants to help, it has vested interest in doing so, but one wonders how much it can take. That is not to say that the end of the alliance is nigh, but rather that Japan is doing little more than pushing the US away (as seen in the abduction issue, among others)

The SDF Law marks defence leaks as a crime, but only since 2001. All leaks are bad, but one wonders about this latest method to fix the holes. Rather than a blanket security policy regarding foreign wives, why are the SDF vetting them? While in the top article the SDF is quick to refute the claims that it is a blanket ban, one wonders if it is so far fetched… Either way, they’d be much better off controlling their IT security ahead of discriminating against those with relationships with foreigners, yet they will never listen. The outsider is always easier to blame.