Indo-Japan Strategic Revival

anil chopra. air power asia, Indo-Japan

Japan has been revisiting its entire approach to national security. They want to move ahead of the American security and nuclear umbrella. Rise of China, and USA’s commitments in the Middle East and Europe had given a tacit nod for Japan to gradually stand on its own security feet. India and Japan have traditionally had strong relationship cemented by the spread of Buddhism from India to Japan in the 6th century. Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army sided with Japanese Imperial Army to fight the British in World War II even though the Indian National Congress and government troops were supporting the British. India was one among the first few countries to sign a peace treaty with Japan after the World War II. Sony, Honda, and Toyota are household names in India. The car manufacturing joint venture between Maruti and Suzuki was a landmark event for Indian industry. Japan has funded the Delhi Metro and its grant of $ 4 billion for the Delhi-Mumbai Industrial Corridor (DMIC), has resulted in Japanese businessmen starting to see India as a favorable destination. Threat of rising China and the new world order has brought India and Japan closer since beginning of new millennia. ‘Japan-India Strategic and Global Partnership’ was signed in December 2006. 2007 was celebrated as the ‘Indo-Japanese Friendship Year’. Japan currently is the third largest FDI investor in India. Japanese Prime Minister Abe being the Chief Guest at 2014 Republic Day and the repeat exchange of visits between the two Prime Ministers has has taken the bonds to a new level.

Indian PM Narendra Modi (left) shaking hands with Japan’s PM Shinzo Abe in Tokyo. (Photo: Reuters)

China – Japan Historical Differences

          China and Japan are geographically separated only by a narrow stretch of Ocean. For centuries China has strongly influenced Japan with its writing system, architecture, culture, religion and philosophy. When Western countries forced Japan to open trading in the mid-19th century, Japan moved towards modernisation, and began viewing China as an antiquated civilisation, unable to defend itself against Western forces during the Opium wars and during Anglo-French expeditions from the 1840s to the 1860s. Japan’s long chain of invasions and war crimes in China between 1894 and 1945 as well as modern Japan’s attitude towards its past are major issues affecting current Sino-Japanese relations.

Japanese Occupation of China. Image Source:

            Relationship remains strained because of Japan’s refusal to acknowledge its wartime crimes. On the other hand  Japan feels the expansion of Chinese People’s Liberation Army and its assertive actions have been damaging the bilateral relation. The Senkaku Islands dispute has also resulted in a number of hostile encounters in the East China Sea, and heated rhetoric. China and Japan have significant trade, but there is an undercurrent of tension. There has been increasingly large mutual dislike, hatred, and hostility between Japanese and Chinese people in recent years. As per a 2014 BBC World Service poll, only 3% of Japanese people view China’s influence positively, with 73% expressing a negative view. Similarly only 5% of Chinese people view Japanese influence positively, with 90% expressing a negative view. 85% of Japanese were concerned that territorial disputes between China and neighbouring countries could lead to a military conflict. Yet the current governments are trying to resolve differences in mutual interest.

Indian National Army 

          The Indian National Army (INA), also called the Azad Hind Fauj was an armed force formed by Indian nationalists in 1942 in South East Asia during World War II, with an aim to secure Indian independence from British rule. It formed an alliance with Imperial Japan. Under Subhash Chandra Bose’s leadership, the INA drew ex-prisoners and thousands of civilian volunteers from the Indian expatriate population in Malaya (present Malaysia) and Burma. The end of the war saw many of INA troops repatriated to India. Some faced trials. These trials helped further galvanise the Indian Independence movement. The Bombay mutiny and the Royal Indian Navy mutinies in 1946 are thought to have been caused by the nationalist feelings that were caused by the INA trials. They are seen as patriots by many Indians.

Chendra Bose, front and center, with members of Azad Hind fauj or Indian national army (i.n.a.) Singapore October 21,1943. Image Pinterest

Constitutional Limits on Military

Currently the Article 9 of Japanese Constitution prohibits Japan from establishing a military or solving international conflicts through violence. However, there has been widespread public debate since 2000 about the possibility of reducing or deleting Article 9 from the constitution. The article limits the armed forces to self-defence. This limits the capabilities of the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF), and currently, there are no long-range attack capabilities such as medium or intercontinental ballistic missiles, strategic bombers, Flight Refuelling Aircraft (FRA) etc. The United States military currently is responsible for offensive duties.

Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF). Image Source:

Japanese Defence Policy and Approach Evolves

            The 21st century is witnessing a rapid change in global power balance along with globalisation. The security environment around Japan is complex with rising and assertive China, and the nuclear and missile development by North Korea. Transnational threats include international terrorism and cyber security. The Japanese armed forces had been disbanded after the World War II. The  JSDF were established in 1954. Today, the JSDF is ranked among the top few most-powerful militaries of the world in conventional capabilities, and have the world’s eighth largest military budget. In recent years, it has engaged in international peacekeeping operations with the United Nations. Tensions, particularly with North Korea have reignited the debate over the status of the JSDF. In the recent years, military cooperation has increased with India, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Australia and United States.

          In 2007, PM Abe announced that Japan’s constitution did not necessarily ban possession of nuclear weapons, so long as they were kept at a minimum and were tactical weapons. On 18 September 2015, the National Diet enacted legislations that allow JSDF for collective self-defense of allies in combat for the first time under its constitution. It also allows JSDF troops to defend weapons platforms of foreign countries that contribute to Japan’s defense. These were Japan’s broadest changes to its defense laws since World War II. Since March 2016, Japan’s Legislation for Peace and Security enables seamless responses of the JSDF to any situation to protect the lives and livelihood of Japanese people. It also increases proactive contributions to peace and security in the world and deepens cooperation with partners. This enhanced the Japan-US alliance. In May 2017, Japan has set in motion revision of Article 9 of the Japanese constitution to be completed by 2020. This clause in the national Constitution of Japan outlaws war as a means to settle international disputes involving the state. This charter had been written by the United States after the conclusion of World War II.

Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) tanks during an exercise. Image Source:

          Japan activated the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade,  its first marine unit since World War II, on April 7, 2018. They’re trained to counter invaders from occupying Japanese Islands. In March 2019, Japan established its first regional cyber protection unit to safeguard defense communications from cyber attacks. Japan is developing supersonic glide bombs to strengthen the defence of Japan’s remote islands, including the Senkaku Islands. Japan also allocated $57 million for R&D of a hypersonic missile in the 2019 defence budget. A scramjet engine prototype, jet fuel technology and heat-resistant materials will be built with testing planned from 2023 to 2025.

Japanese Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade. Image Source:

          British troops exercised with JSDF for the first time in Oyama, Shizuoka prefecture in October 2018. For the first time in history that foreign soldiers other than Americans exercised on Japanese soil. Japan unveiled the indigenous 84-meter long, 2,950 tons Oryu submarine in October 2018, its first submarine powered by lithium-ion batteries, The submarine was operationally deployed first time in March 2020.

          The JSDF and the Indian army conducted their first joint military exercise in the India’s Mizoram in October-November 2018. It was primarily anti-terror drills and improving bilateral cooperation. Japan and the United States conducted the biggest military exercise around Japan thus far, the biennial Keen Sword October-November 2018. It included a total of 47,000 sailors, marines and airmen from JSDF and 10,000 from the US forces. A naval supply ship and frigate of the Royal Canadian Navy also participated. They simulated air combat, ballistic missile defence and amphibious landings.

US and Japan Keen Sword Exercise. Image Source:

          The Japanese government approved the first-ever JSDF dispatch to a peacekeeping operation that’s not lead by the United Nations, with two JGSDF officers to monitor a cease-fire between Israel and Egypt at the Multinational Force and Observers command in the Sinai peninsula.  On 19 April 2019, Japan and the United States confirmed that cyber-attacks were also covered by the bilateral security treaty, and defence cooperation will increase for outer space, cyber and electronic warfare. Japan announced plans to deploy ‘Type 12’ surface-to-ship missiles in March 2020. They have an increased range of 300 km and will be used to protect the southern Ryukyu Islands. Japan is also developing high-speed gliding missiles with a range of 1000 km.

Japanese Defence Structure and Strategy

          JSDF today includes the Ground Self-Defense Force, Maritime Self-Defense Force, and Air Self-Defense Force. They have five armies, five maritime districts and four air defence forces. In its pursuit of peace Japan created a National Security Council (NSC) in 2013 with the aim of establishing a forum which will undertake strategic discussions under the Prime Minister on a regular basis and for exercising a strong political leadership. At the same time they adopted a National Security Strategy (NSS), that sets the basic orientation of diplomatic and defence policies, and promotes better understanding of Japan’s national security policy. In July 2018, the Japanese government settled on a 3-year strategy to counter possible cyber-attacks against key parts of the nation’s infrastructure ahead of the forthcoming Tokyo Olympics. Japan also issued the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG).

Japanese Air Self-Defense Force. Image Source:

Japan’s Defence Budget and Major Systems

          At 5.26 trillion yen (US$47 billion), the Japanese defence budget for 2019 caters to countering rising China’s military. The 2019 allocations cover a US missile interceptor system, six stealth F-35 fighter jets and part of a new aircraft carrier. Japan has the 8th largest defence budget in the world. In 2003, Japan decided to deploy three types of anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems, including land based, air defence vehicles, and sea-based. The systems cover most of Japan. Japan began creating the Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade in 2016. This unit will be designed to recover any Japanese islands taken by an adversary. Japan has initiated a program to convert its two Izumo-class destroyers from “helicopter carrier destroyers” to aircraft carriers with a capability to launch the F-35B to be the first Japanese aircraft carriers since WW II. Japan have a permanent naval base in Djibouti to provide security for Japanese ships against Somali pirates operational since July 2011. The base now houses approximately 200 personnel and two P-3C aircraft.

Japanese Complex at the Joint Airbase in Djibouti. Image Source:

Indo-Japanese Relations Begin to Blossom

          China’s hegemony in the region; its historic animosity and distrust of Japan; its dispute with Japan over island territories; serious territorial water disputes in South-China Sea; and frequent border incursions into India pushed Japan and India closer. Both China and Japan blame each other for altering the status quo.

          In September 2014, newly elected Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid an official visit to Japan and had a summit meeting with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. They agreed to upgrade the bilateral relationship to “Special Strategic and Global Partnership.” The body language Japanese PM was very ‘pro-India’, as he laid out the red carpet. In December 2015, Japanese Prime Minister Abe paid an official visit to India. The two nations resolved to transform the relations further into a deep, broad-based and action-oriented partnership, which reflects a broad convergence of their long-term political, economic and strategic goals. They announced “Japan and India Vision 2025″ peace and prosperity of the Indo-Pacific region and the world. In November 2016, Indian PM visit to Japan substantially advanced the “new era in Japan-India relations,” and coordinated the vision of a free and open Indo-Pacific and the “Act East” policy. Indian PM again visited Japan in October 2018.

PM Modi Visit to Japan. Image Source:

Economic Relations

          In 2014, two leaders decided to set a common goal of doubling Japan’s direct investment and the number of Japanese companies in India by 2019. Japan intended to target 3.5 trillion yen of public and private investment and financing, including Official Development Assistance (ODA), to India over the coming five years. Japan sought India to improve the business environment, including the easing of regulations. India established the “Japan Plus” office in the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in October 2014 as a single-point for resolving problems faced by Japanese companies. Japan and India considered setting up 11 Japanese industrial townships around DMIC and CBIC. India also decided to introduce the Shinkansen high-speed railway system. India has been the largest recipient of Japanese ODA loan for the past few decades. Delhi Metro is one of the most successful examples of Japanese cooperation through the utilization of ODA. Japan will cooperate on supporting strategic connectivity linking South Asia to Southeast Asia through quality infrastructure. Japan agreed to train 30,000 Indians in the manufacturing sector over next 10 years in the Japan-India Institute for Manufacturing (JIM), teaching Japanese manufacturing skills and practices. The first four JIMs are operational in Gujarat, Karnataka, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu. Japanese private-sector’s interest in India is rising, and, currently, about 1,305 Japanese companies have branches in India. As of October 2018, 9,838 Japanese nationals were residing in India, and as of June, 2019, 37,933 Indian are residing in Japan.

Maruti Suzuki factory in Guragaon. Image Source:

Indo-Japanese Military Relations Evolve

          Fiercely anti-nuclear Japan was very concerned with India’s ‘peaceful nuclear explosions’ and caused an irritant in the relations. Initially, the military contacts were limited to exchange of port calls by the Navies. The first joint naval exercise with JSDF, Exercise ‘Malabar 2007’ was held in the Indian Ocean, along with Australia, Singapore and United States. Maintaining secure sea-lanes in the Indo-Pacific region, fighting piracy and terrorism, and check proliferation of weapons of mass destruction were the stated common goals.  The exercise sent ripples in the region, especially for China. India and Japan signed a security pact in October 2008. India is among the only three countries Japan has a security pact with, US and Australia being the other two.

Malabar Exercise 2020. Image Source:

Indo-Japanese Security Cooperation

          Since 2008 there is “the Joint Declaration on Security Cooperation between Japan and India”. There are also various frameworks of security and defense dialogue between Japan and India including “2+2” meeting, annual “Defense Ministerial Dialogue” and “Coast Guard-to-Coast Guard dialogue”. The two sides have reaffirmed their desire to further deepen bilateral security and defense cooperation and institute Foreign and Defence Ministerial Meeting (2+2), and welcomed the commencement of negotiations on the Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement (ACSA). In November 2019, the first Foreign and Defence ministerial meeting was held in New Delhi. Important military and strategic agreement have been signed between the two countries in recent years. These include, Transfer of Defence Equipment and Technology Agreement 2015; Security Measures for the Protection of Classified Military Information (2015); and Cooperation in the Peaceful Uses of Nuclear Energy.


QUAD and Malabar Exercises

          Quadrilateral Security Dialogue  (QUAD) is an informal strategic dialogue between the United States, Japan, Australia and India. The dialogue was initiated in 2007 by Prime Minister Abe of Japan. The dialogue was paralleled by the joint military ‘Malabar’ exercises of an unprecedented scale. The diplomatic and military arrangement was widely viewed as a response to increased Chinese economic and military power. The Chinese government issued a formal diplomatic protests to all members. Australia was initially reluctant because it was concerned about joining a perceived alliance against China with two of its historic adversaries, Japan and India. Exercise Malabar is a trilateral naval exercise involving the US, Japan and India as permanent partners. Originally begun in 1992 as a bilateral exercise between India and the United States, Japan became a permanent partner in 2015. Past non-permanent participants are Australia and Singapore. Currently, the annual Malabar series includes diverse activities, ranging from fighter combat operations from aircraft carriers and maritime interdiction operations among others. With Australia’s participation in the drills in 2020, it was the first time in 13 years that all members of the regional grouping known as the Quad will be engaging militarily.

U.S.-Japan-India-Australia Quad. Image Source:

Japanese Defence Industry

          Mid 1970s Japanese industry started developing military hardware in collaboration with U.S. firms. These included F-15 fighters, P-3C Orion anti-submarine aircraft and 8-inch Howitzers. The 94 indigenous Mitsubishi F-2 fighters built jointly with Lockheed Martin, as a successor to F-16 are in service. They thus have access to cutting-edge technologies. Japan is initially focusing on non-lethal defence gear such as patrol ships and mine detectors and only much later may export such weapons as tanks and fighter jets. Japan being a technologically advanced country can support modern defence production. The major Japanese players in the field are Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Ishikawajima-Harima Heavy Industries. One potential export is Kawasaki Heavy’s submarine diesel engines, which do not require air and allows submarines to stay submerged for an extended period. The stealth technologies currently with the West for ships and aircraft reportedly originated from Japan. Japan also leads in avionics, communications, surveillance radars and electronic warfare technologies. Japanese warship industry is also very advanced.

C-2 transport plane by Kawasaki Heavy Industries. Image Source:

ShinMaywa US-2 Amphibious Aircraft

          The ShinMaywa US-2 is a Japanese short takeoff and landing amphibious aircraft. introduced during the 1970s. The aircraft has a short take-off (280 m) and landing (330 m) performance over water, and could land at high sea states. It can also operate on land from runways up to 1.3 km long. It has a capacity of 20 passengers or 12 stretchers, and a range of 4,700 km. JSDF use it for the air-sea rescue (ASR) role. The US-2 can also be used as an aerial fire fighter, and can take 15 tons of water. Many overseas operators have held discussions including the Indian Navy and Indian Coast Guard. A joint working group was set up  for fast-tracking the deal to supply 15 ‘US-2’ aircraft to India. This would have been the first defence export of Japan since the self-imposed ban after WW II. Earlier in December 2011, Japan had reviewed its decades-old ban on arm exports. The deal has still to go fructify. China considers any such deal as a provocation.

ShinMaywa US-2 Amphibious Aircraft. Image Source:

New Japanese PM Yoshihide Suga – Continuity of Shinzo Abe Legacy

After 8 years of Abe Shinzo’s unprecedented stint, on 16 September, Japan has a new prime minister in Suga Yoshihide, who was a longtime Chief Cabinet Secretary, and a very trusted lieutenant of Abe. Suga has been the behind the scenes man for Abe.  Japan’s Cabinet has approved a record 5.34 trillion yen ($51.7 billion/€42.4 billion) defense budget for the fiscal year 2021. It’s the first defense budget under Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and seeks to bolster funding to develop longer-range cruise missiles and stealth fighters to counter potential threats from China and North Korea. With the move, Suga’s government has provided continuity to the priorities of his predecessor. While it is wait and watch for India, but the general trajectory has been set.

Yoshihide Suga (right) Takes Over as Japan’s New Prime Minister. Image Source:

Indo-Japan Relations Ahead

            Indo-Pacific is the new pivot around which the world is evolving geo-politically. Return of PM Abe has been based on resurgent nationalism and remilitarisation is the new ideology. PM Abe is seen by some as an ‘Indophile’. China’s repeat provocative incursions across Line of Actual Control (LAC), and close links with Pakistan, and attempts to increase influence in the Indian Ocean region, have been pushing New Delhi to seek alliances in the region. Indo-Japan initial dialogue has begun cooperation in shipping, and maritime and cyber security. The “Special Strategic Global Partnership” will improve Indo-Japan ties and bolster India’s strategic depth and in turn bargaining power. All this has a subtle backing of USA. Japan and India are the two important pillars for Asian security, and a bulwark against China. Maritime, cyber security, military intelligence are areas of common interest. These engagement would be incomplete if the two armed forces don’t regularly take part in joint exercises. The Japan-India strategic partnership seems well on its way to exploit the growing strategic convergences between the two nations against the backdrop of China’s military overbearing behaviour in East Asia and South East Asia. Japan and Indian armed forces both share a rich legacy of military traditions and both nations would benefit from enhanced military-to-military contacts and cooperation across the entire military spectrum.

Picture Credit: You Tube

Published by Anil Chopra

I am the founder of Air Power Asia and a retired Air Marshal from the Indian Air Force.

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