On August 1, the front page of The Sankei Shimbun printed an article titled, “China Regulates Drone Exports.” It read:
Chinese companies occupy a large global share of the drone market. It is possible that these regulations are a countermeasure by the Xi Jinping administration in light of stronger American export controls against China, including advanced semiconductors.
The Chinese Ministry of Commerce and others have announced that this measure is aimed at defending national safety and interests. It was approved by the State Council (government) and Central Military Commission. The regulations apply to some drones that exceed a determined standard, as well as their engines, laser devices, counter-drone systems, and other equipment. Companies will be subject to criminal liability if they export these items without permission.
It is certainly true that drones are gaining increasing value as weapons in recent years. Both sides are using more drone attacks in the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian War.
FRIDAY DIGITAL posted a detailed article about the current state of drone warfare on April 17, “Aerial Killing Machines Exceed 400 Kilometers Per Hour, Cost 2.3 Billion Yen Each: The Terrifying Capabilities of the Latest Military Drones.” The article begins by saying, “We may be approaching the end of the era when humans fight on the front lines. Behind Ukraine’s continuous, fierce resistance against Russia, it is believed that other countries have donated large quantities of military drones to Ukraine. Ukraine is successfully deploying various types of drones for reconnaissance, attacks, and bombing. […] As drones become the main battlefield weapon, nations are in cutthroat competition to develop drones for emergency use.”
Next, the article describes drones that have been developed by other countries, saying, “The most powerful drone that exists today is said to be the American-made MQ-9 Reaper.” It reads:
The article continues:
China is actively developing drones to oppose the U.S.
It unveiled the Wing Loong-3, a high-performance drone designed in consideration of the MQ-9 Reaper, last November. The Wing Loong-3 can be flown for 40 hours with a cruising range of over 10,000 kilometers. It could carry two tons of weapons from China to an American military base in Hawaii, and is said to be capable of in-flight refueling. More Chinese military drones are performing reconnaissance in the airspace near Okinawa recently, leading to a rapid increase in Japan Air Self-Defense Force scrambles.
Taiwan is rapidly carrying out drone development to prepare for a Chinese invasion, and has increased its defense spending by 14% compared to last year, reaching the record amount of roughly 2.55 trillion yen. Taiwan also decided to procure 3,000 military drones. This March, Taiwan extensively promoted its new, originally developed drones to the press corps. A reporter in the international division of a national paper stated, “They unveiled eight types, all of which are made in Taiwan. Some are equipped with artificial intelligence and can automatically track enemy warships for 16 hours and 300 kilometers. Taiwan is also implementing small models that can launch missiles in flight. It seems safe to say that the timing of this announcement is intended to discourage China, which is putting heavier military pressure on Taiwan.”
This article states, “In December 2022, Japan also decided to deploy several hundred attack and other military drones from 2025.” However, there is significant concern about the operation of these drones. DIAMOND Online published an article by Naoaki Hidani on December 28, 2022, titled, “Despite the JSDF’s Full-scale Implementation of Drones, Why is Their Use Limited During Crises?” According to Hidani, the Drone Act requires the JSDF to notify the police at least 48 hours before operating a drone above specified “key national facilities” (JSDF camps, American military bases, the Imperial Palace, Prime Minister’s Office, etc.). In other words, this law makes it impossible for the JSDF to immediately launch drones in the event of the emergency. DIAMOND Online also ran an article by Tomoyoshi Hirata on January 25, 2023, “Anachronistic Drone Regulations Restricting the JSDF: ‘It Would be Faster to Run Holding a Selfie Stick.’” Hirata writes that the Radio Act only allows drones to be operated unconditionally in Japan at a frequency of 2.4 gigahertz (GHz). This is an abnormally strict standard compared to the rest of the world, and it shackles the JSDF’s use of drones in the same way as it does private citizens. 2.4 GHz drones are easily impacted by radio frequency interference. This is one reason why some drones can only be flown for around 300 meters in Japan, just one-twentieth their overseas range of six kilometers. Large amounts of radio interference result in more time required for takeoff. According to testimony from an active-duty JSDF official, “For a range of several hundred meters, it would actually be faster to run to your destination holding a selfie stick!” This issue would be solved if Japan permitted 5 GHz and other frequencies that are standard overseas. The Drone Act, Radio Act, and other laws regulate military drones to such an extent that they cannot be sufficiently operated in Japan.
Warfare of the past involved human soldiers who fought with weapons. The film Top Gun: Maverick depicts how times have changed – manned aircraft are being replaced by autonomous aerial vehicles, meaning that different countries must compete to have the most advanced drones and other unmanned weapons. Considering this trend, it will be important for Japan to be able to develop drones and other cutting-edge weapons for the sake of national security. This was hindered by the Three Principles on Arms Export, which is “a policy that says the Japanese government, from its stance as a peace-loving nation, will not promote arms exports to avoid encouraging international disputes, etc.” Japanese weapon production has been limited because they cannot be exported out of the country. Naturally, they are expensive with low profit ratios, and many manufacturers have withdrawn from this market. Moreover, because the Three Principles on Arms Export prohibited Japan even from jointly developing weapons with other countries, Japan has lagged behind in developing modern weapons, which cost huge amounts of R&D money. To help resolve this, the second Shinzo Abe administration made a new Cabinet decision in 2014 on the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology, establishing the government’s new arms export regulations and operational rules. Based on the premise of exporting weapons, these principles clearly specify conditions for banning the transfer of defense equipment. Transfer approval requires strict examinations and information disclosure, allowing Japan to take part in joint development with other countries. The principles also include guidelines for operation, limiting them to five categories: rescue, transport, vigilance, surveillance, and minesweeping.
But even after the Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology, no progress has been made in exporting Japanese defense equipment overseas. NIKKEI VERITAS explored this situation in detail on November 20, 2022, in “Challenges to Promote Exports of Poorly Selling Japanese Defense Equipment, Improve Profit Ratios.”
Japan is losing out to other countries in competition to sell submarines to Australia and patrol planes to the United Kingdom, which seemed to offer excellent prospects. Japan receives many inquiries for rescue amphibious aircraft, but they have not been able to agree on the requirements. As of summer 2020, the only completed equipment that has been transferred overseas was for a contract with the Philippine Department of National Defense, for four of Mitsubishi Electric’s warning and control radars (4 bases are approximately 100 million dollars).
Why is Japanese equipment selling so poorly?
Rui Matsukawa, former parliamentary secretary for defense in the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), clearly voiced her judgement as follows: “Japan produces this equipment in small amounts, so it costs a great deal. We have no production structure for overseas exports. We should be able to downgrade and sell JSDF weapons. The Three Principles shackle us in many ways so we can’t even easily provide sample models. The government hasn’t established a system to support corporations at the forefront of this.”
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and Minister of Defense Yasukazu Hamada repeatedly say that Japan’s defense capability depends on the defense industry, and they have indicated a strong desire to enhance Japan’s domestic foundation. Russia’s war in Ukraine has shown that ammunition and equipment supplies, as well as production increase structures, majorly impact war progress and a country’s ability to continue fighting.
The first question is how Japan should maintain its domestic production strength. In the past 20 years, it is said that over 100 Japanese companies have closed down their defense businesses.
There are major disparities when comparing Japanese companies’ sizes and defense business proportions against the top 10 American and Chinese companies in the global munitions industry. Japanese manufacturers do not place priority on assigning human resources and funds to these businesses.
The ruling party has stated that it will drastically strengthen Japan’s defense capabilities within the next five years. One important part of this is enhancing Japan’s defense industry. The government is hurriedly considering factors such as 1) Profit levels in line with the results of long-term contracts, 2) Relaxing the restrictions of the Three Principles to encourage arms exports and building a structure for public-private collaboration, and 3) Stepping up support for R&D.
The LDP and Komeito discussed relaxing the Three Principles requirements and put together a list of points at issue in July. Reuters published an article on July 5, 2023, titled, “LDP and Komeito Organize Defense Equipment Points, Clarify Government’s Interpretation on Arms Exports.”
Regarding joint equipment development with other nations, most were of the opinion that discussions should be held on allowing exports to third countries, which is currently prohibited. This is because, as Masakazu Hamachi of the Komeito said, “There is the risk that Japan will be unable to take part in joint development” unless exports are allowed to third countries, for instance the next-generation fighter aircraft to be developed by Japan, the UK, and Italy.
They asked for the Three Principles to clearly state the significance of equipment exports as means for carrying out diplomatic negotiations, and said the Three Principles should also include “support for countries that are experiencing invasion, the use of military force, or the threat of military force” in light of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
With the goal of providing more support to Ukraine, I think that relaxing these requirements would be a step forward to enhancing Japan’s defense industry.
Peace is achieved through a balance of power. Japan must maintain a balance of power with its neighbors by constantly updating its weapons so we can protect ourselves and export arms to our allies when crises occur. One of our neighbors has a population more than 10 times larger than Japan’s, and is rapidly enhancing its economic and military strength. We can infer that it is watching vigilantly for an opportunity to gain control of Japan. We must be prepared as long as this situation remains unchanged. Japan is fortunate to be surrounded by oceans. The MSDF must maintain its high-performance submarines (said to be the most powerful conventional submarines in the world) to defend our control of the sea. We should also consider obtaining nuclear submarines in the future. To maintain air supremacy, Japan is introducing F-35 fifth-generation fighters equipped with advanced fire-control systems that can detect and shoot down enemies in advance. While Japan, the UK, and Italy are also developing sixth-generation fighters as a joint project, we must quickly make it possible to export them to third countries and step up this development even further. Right now, Japan is in the phase when it must think seriously about enhancing its defense industry and capabilities from many different angles, including legislation.
August 21 (Monday), 6:00 p.m.