How Japan should approach military tech competition by JIMBO Ken

“API Geoeconomic Briefing” is a weekly analysis of significant geopolitical and geoeconomic developments that precede the post-pandemic world. The briefing is written by experts at Asia Pacific Initiative (API) and includes an assessment of burgeoning trends in international politics and economics and the possible impact on Japan’s national interests and strategic response. (Editor-in-chief: Dr. HOSOYA Yuichi, Research Director, API; Professor, Faculty of Law, Keio University; Visiting Fellow, Downing College, University of Cambridge)

This article was posted to the Japan Times on December 28, 2021:

API Geoeconomic Briefing

December 28, 2021

How Japan should approach military tech competition

MSF Executive Director, Asia Pacific Initiative (API);
Professor, Faculty of Policy Management, Keio University




With industrial competition in the high-tech sector at the core of economic security, it is vital to grasp the trends in national security and game-changing military technologies.

For nations around the globe, national security is in a period of transition and development, as countries are facing the need to change their strategies, operations and tactics in line with emerging technologies.

Technological innovations have constantly brought changes to the military sphere, but what is unique about the recent trend is that changes are driven by rapidly developing civilian technologies.

Cutting-edge technologies, such as robotics, artificial intelligence and quantum computing, are core technologies that contribute to raising the industrial competitiveness of the private sector. At the same time, they are dual-use technologies that also have the potential for military applications.

Such new technologies are changing the values and positions of conventional military technologies, creating a new trend in global warfare.

It is necessary for the government to work together with the private sector – which has predominant influence over the development of emerging technologies – as well as the academic sector to deepen understanding of the trend and include it in today’s discussions on economic security.

Changing military technologies

The transformation of warfare has three basic features.

First, domains and main constituents of warfare are being integrated and their borders are blurred.

Traditional warfighting domains of land, sea and air are combined with other areas such as space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic spectrum — as well as with the domains of unmanned and autonomous systems — and it is becoming increasingly important to conduct multidomain operations to create synergy.

Second, physical battlespace is becoming more high-speed, and competition in cyberspace and cognitive domains has become the norm, meaning two different time scales coexist.

Thanks to development of telecommunications technology and artificial intelligence, overall warfare is conducted at a faster speed, as it has become possible to implement high-level battlefield recognition and warfare management instantly.

On the other hand, cyberattacks and information warfare are constantly taking place, making the cognitive domain a battlefield that exists around-the-clock.

Third, military technologies are increasingly divided into sophisticated, aggregated types and single-function, dispersed types.

While there is a trend to integrate high-end technologies that require a great amount of development costs, including next-generation fighter jets, Aegis systems and satellite constellations, it is also important to reform warfare using low-end technologies such as low-cost drones for swarming attacks and 3D printers to create disposable military supplies.


There are some game-changing technologies that will determine next-generation warfare.

The first is unmanned systems and robotics.

Unmanned technology is developing rapidly in all the domains of land, sea and air, bringing about significant changes in command and control, battlefield recognition and management capabilities and power projection ability.

If the automation and autonomization of operations, tactics and fighting progress with artificial intelligence, autonomous command and control mechanisms with minimum middle-rank human intervention might characterize military activities in the future.

The second is high-power energy.

Directed energy weapons (DEW) are electromagnetic systems capable of converting chemical or electrical energy to radiated energy and focusing it on a target to destroy or deactivate an adversarial capability.

The use of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) generated by high-power microwaves as a weapon that can bring about irreversible damage to information and electrical power infrastructure is fast becoming a military reality.

The third is quantum computing.

This technology is also highly likely to cause a revolutionary change that outstrips existing military capabilities.

Quantum computers, which can process huge amounts of data at high speeds, dramatically improve warfare system capabilities. Quantum sensors can detect airplanes and submarines by changes in air and water flow, and quantum radars can even detect stealth aircraft. Quantum cryptography enables decryption of public key encryptions.

Protecting technologies

To achieve economic security, it is necessary to integrate these emerging technologies in the military sphere through three policies – security, nurturing and international cooperation.

First and foremost, measures should be taken to prevent outflow or exploitation of sensitive technologies.

Amid the intensifying battle between the United States and China for technological hegemony, Washington has taken measures to strengthen regulations for investments by foreign firms, export control of sensitive technologies and government procurement in line with the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019.

U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is also conducting a comprehensive review of supply chain security risks in sensitive high-tech sectors.

Japan should also establish governance systems for the management of sensitive technologies in boosting economic security.

As for investments by foreign firms, the revised Foreign Exchange and Foreign Trade Control Law, which took effect last year, imposes stricter rules on foreign investors acquiring firms in Japan.

However, the government’s screening process is not sufficient enough. Japan needs to establish a permanent organization authorized to determine the effect of foreign investment on national security, like the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS).

Another urgent task for Japan is to boost trade control measures for national security.

The government, particularly the Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry, is trying to build awareness among universities, companies and research institutions on measures that restrict the exporting and offering of advanced technologies.

As a wide range of civilian technologies are subject to the restrictions, it is important for the government to see that each entity implements proper export control, and at the same time, make sure the move will not unnecessarily discourage companies from conducting trade and investments.

Tokyo must also establish a security clearance system to protect confidential information held by Japan’s defense industry, companies that handle sensitive technologies and operators of key infrastructure.

An approval process should be created to allow access to sensitive technologies and confidential information according to positions in those entities. The government should also accelerate international cooperation on information security.

Nurturing new technologies

Japan should drastically step up development and utilization of emerging technologies to achieve strategic indispensability.

It is crucial to thoroughly dig up materials, underlying technologies, fundamental research and basic technologies held by Japan’s industries and nurture new technologies that will contribute to strengthening the nation’s defense capabilities.

In addition to the National Security Technology Research Promotion Fund that finances basic research into technologies with both civil and military applications, it is also necessary to promote research projects that connect basic technologies with the development of military equipment, as well as those that lead to the creation of technologies for future warfare.

For a long time, research and development of defense technologies in Japan have not been terribly active compared with other countries.

However, for fiscal 2022, the Defense Ministry made a budget request of ¥325.7 billion for research and development costs, an increase of ¥114.1 billion from the amount allocated in the current fiscal year, in order to strengthen analysis of defense technologies and efforts to realize practical use of game-changing technologies.

It is necessary to not only reinforce the defense industry and technological foundations but also accelerate expansion of programs to develop emerging technologies and put them to practical military use.

International collaboration

The key issue regarding economic security and defense technologies is to promote international cooperation.

Japan has been working with the U.S. as part of the bilateral alliance to jointly develop Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA hit-to-kill interceptor missiles, which are almost ready to be deployed.

The two countries should conduct joint research and development on technologies that will become the next main pillar of defense equipment.

They are currently facing the largest national security challenge of the century – strategic confrontation with China.

They need to deepen defense and industrial cooperation to overcome the challenge.

Policy coordination with Washington on export control is particularly important, as there are criticisms among Japanese industries over the U.S. policy of regulating companies outside the U.S. re-exporting dual-use items of American origin.

The U.S. unilaterally applies export control measures – with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Industry and Security (BIS) issuing trade blacklists called the Entity List and the Military End User List – but these moves should be taken on the basis of negotiations with allies.

The U.S. and Japan must exchange information on a regular basis on emerging technologies that need to be protected and end users that may need to be put on the lists.

In order to do so, foreign and trade officials of both countries should hold high-level talks on the issue regularly.

Military equipment transfers

Lastly, Japan needs to promote transfers of defense equipment abroad.

Although seven years have passed since Japan adopted the three principles of transfer of defense equipment and technology in 2014, officially lifting restrictions on arms export, the country has not necessarily been successful in the global defense market.

The only successful transfer of defense equipment abroad so far is the supply of an air surveillance radar system to the Philippines, and all the other attempts to export arms – Soryu-class submarines to Australia, an air defense radar system to Thailand and rescue aircraft to India – failed.

There is an urgent need to cope with the issue so that the country’s defense industry can increase its presence in the global market and Japan can promote defense cooperation with partner countries.

In order to achieve economic security, Japan is focusing on securing strategic autonomy and indispensability.

Technologies in the military sphere are the key in facing the challenges related to national security.

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this API Geoeconomic Briefing do not necessarily reflect those of the API, the API Institute of Geoeconomic Studies or any other organizations to which the author belongs.