The Unfortunate Reality that Japan is an “IT-Behind-the-Scenes” Country, Even in National Defense | FRIDAY DIGITAL

The Unfortunate Reality that Japan is an “IT-Behind-the-Scenes” Country, Even in National Defense

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Numerous IT Weapons and Technologies Utilized in Russia’s Invasion of Ukraine

The Corona disaster has clearly revealed that Japan is an “IT underdeveloped” country.

Furthermore, watching the news of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, we are amazed at the information and digital warfare being waged using digital technology as a weapon, including Ukraine’s “cyber volunteer army” and “IT group”. On the other hand, what about Japan’s national defense? We don’t hear much about it… Is it possible that Japan is an IT underdeveloped country in national defense as well? We asked military photojournalist Masayuki Kikuchi.

To give a simple example, Japan actually created a pioneering drone system called FFOS (Flying Forward Observation System) in the Ground Self-Defense Force in 2004. At that time, drone technology was not far behind that of other militaries, but the drone-like device was about 4 meters long and required a 3-ton truck to transport it. In addition, it had to be supported by a convoy of five vehicles carrying communication equipment and antennas. It was like a tiny helicopter.


For example, when using artillery to drop shells on an enemy island 30 to 40 kilometers away, the main purpose was to fly the drones to see the landing of the shells from the sky.

Although it was not a slow start, we had built something with little versatility at first, and we were forced to make minor changes to it, and we were stuck in that spell for a long time.

As a result, it was only in the last couple of years that the Self-Defense Forces began to purchase the ANAFI, a small French drone that can be bought at mass retailers and used for “reconnaissance purposes,” as it is used in Ukraine today.

The “Flying Forward Observation System” was created for the purpose of observing bullets fired by cannons from the sky. This was modified for reconnaissance use, and was the first drone used by the Ground Self-Defense Force. It weighs 213 kg (photo by Masayuki Kikuchi).

The Self-Defense Forces were not slow to start, but…

Japan was not slow to start, but one thing it did was to take the wrong direction at the start. Furthermore, why was it unable to change direction from there?

What Japan does is inevitably half-hearted. For example, the U.S. has the RQ-4 Global Hawk, a huge high-altitude dwell reconnaissance drone that can go to quite high altitudes, but in the case of the FFOS that the SDF built, it didn’t fly to that high an altitude, but it became huge.

Moreover, once the procedure to develop and procure something has been followed, it is difficult to abandon it and develop a new one, due to budgetary approval and other factors.

From the public’s point of view, it may seem like they are taking good care of their blood money by not throwing away something once it has been built, but I doubt if it is meaningful to continue to have something that cannot be used.

Incidentally, when Japan was using a huge drone-like device made for ballistic observation, the U.S. and other multinational forces were already using drones for military purposes for bombing during the 2003 Iraq War.

Kikuchi also gives this simple example as a comparison between Japan and the U.S. 

When I covered the U.S. military in 1996, I saw a system for exchanging e-mail over the Internet being used on board a ship, and I thought it was amazing.”

That was the “origin” of what would later become Windows 98 and so on.

“As for how things were in Japan at that time, I typed out an application for coverage of the Self-Defense Forces using a word processor, put it in an envelope, affixed a postage stamp, and sent it off. To begin with, there is no comparison between the U.S. and Japan.”

By 2010, however, the use of networks had spread to the weapons used by Japan’s soldiers at the end of the line.

“We built a new tank called the Type 10 Hitomaru tank,” he said.

Until then, tanks communicated with each other by radio, but the Hitomaru-type tank had a monitor screen, and by having fellow tanks look at the same screen, the location of fellow tanks and even enemy information was mapped on a map using GPS, and the system was able to share this information.

It was the first time the SDF had networked the system, and one of the first in the world. That system was later installed in the 2016 Type 16 (Hitoroku) Mobile Combat Vehicle.

“Before that, however, the U.S. had distributed what would become the basis for the iPad…”

The “Skyranger” was adopted as a reconnaissance drone. Made in Canada. Weighs 2.4 kg. It is now easily portable (photo by Masayuki Kikuchi).

The reason why IT has not progressed…

Why has IT not progressed in Japan’s National Defense? Mr. Kikuchi cites a “lack of a sense of crisis” as the primary reason.

The people who don’t have a sense of urgency are those close to the Cabinet Office and government officials.

The Ground, Maritime, and Air Self-Defense Forces have been conducting research and development in their own way since the beginning of 2000, but the Ministry of Defense, which is in charge of these activities, does not have a sense of crisis.

He also points out that the speed of the Defense Minister’s “bureaucratic work” is also a factor.

The National Defense Program Outline, which provides guidelines for the Ministry of Defense, is basically revised every 10 years. In other words, the Ministry of Defense issues its own guidelines every 10 years, and the Self-Defense Forces under the Ministry of Defense begin to train and equip themselves according to those guidelines over a 10-year period.

For example, the Ground Self-Defense Force is not a system that says, “This drone is old, so let’s change it.”

For example, even now, the Chinese navy is harassing the Senkaku Islands on a daily basis, and recently they have started flying drones in addition to planes and ships.

The Chinese navy has been trying to use drones to do this, because it would be very difficult for them to send one or two ships to the Senkaku Islands on a regular basis.

This is a move that we have seen for about four or five years, and Japan is chasing it with vessels of the Maritime Self-Defense Force and airplanes of the Air Self-Defense Force. Japan is doing an inefficient job of chasing unmanned objects with manned aircraft.

It has often been pointed out that Japan’s defense spending is among the highest in the world, and defense spending in FY2021 was found to be 1.24% of GDP. Nevertheless, why is Japan “lagging behind” in spending money?

The Ministry of Defense sometimes has to build defensive platforms, such as Aegis Ashore, for example, to intercept North Korean ballistic missiles, which cannot be built without a huge investment of 500 billion yen or 600 billion yen.

“In addition, since it costs quite a bit of money to replace fighter jets that have been in use since the 1970s with newer fighter jets called the F-35, I believe that neither manpower nor money will be available for software development,” he said.

Furthermore, in the case of Japan, the fiscal bind of each fiscal year also seems to be a bottleneck.

The F-35 costs 10 billion yen per aircraft, and we are supposed to buy 147 of them, but if we buy them all at once, for example, the manufacturers will be willing to negotiate the price.

In fact, the U.S. has such a discount contract, but in the case of Japan, it will probably take about 15 years to get 147 planes.

By the time Japan has an amazing network that integrates land, sea, and air, the rest of the world will have something even more amazing.

What is the newly added “USADEN”…

While all this sounds hopeless, there is some good news. That is the change that began around 2018.

The three areas that Japan must protect are its territorial waters, airspace, and territory, but now three new areas have been added.

The Self-Defense Forces have finally created a cyber defense force, an electronic warfare company to fight in the electromagnetic domain, and an electronic warfare unit.

However, it is a true story that sounds like a lie, but in the National Defense White Paper, the first letter of space, cyber, and electromagnetic waves is taken and abbreviated as “USADEN,” and the Self-Defense Forces say “USADEN” in serious meetings. It’s kind of an unfortunate sense, isn’t it?


However, as seen in the invasion of Ukraine, cyber-attacks and the use of electromagnetic waves to neutralize or intercept the radio waves of other countries are actually taking place, so it is commendable that Japan has taken a step forward by focusing on “USADEN” at least at this late date.

In a manner of speaking, Japan’s defense has reached the same starting line as that of the Western powers. Now it is time to show our skills.

Masayuki Kikuchi, military photojournalist, was born in Tokyo in 1975. After working as a photographer for Kodansha’s Friday magazine, he became a military photojournalist. He mainly covers the Self-Defense Forces and the militaries of various countries. Recently, he has also covered the police, coast guard, fire department, etc. on the theme of crisis management.

He has written numerous articles for newspapers and magazines, including “Latest National Defense File” (Sankei Shimbun) for Evening Fuji, “SDF Frontline Report” (Futabasha) for EX Mass, and others. In addition, he has appeared on TV, radio, internet broadcasts, and events. He has published many books, including a photo book “Land Self-Defense Forces” (Cosmic Publishing), “Why Only the Self-Defense Forces Can Save People” (Ushio Shobo Kohjin Shinsha), “Trial and Excitement of Long Sea Voyage” (Kaya Shobo), “Ganbare Female Self-Defense Forces Officer” (Ikaros Publishing), a calendar “Shin Land, Sea, Air Self-Defense Force” (True Self-Defense Force), and many other publications. “KIKU CHANNEL JP” on YouTube to provide military information.

  • Interview and text by Wakako Takou

    Born in 1973. After working for a publishing company and an advertising production company, became a freelance writer. In addition to interviewing actors for weekly and monthly magazines, she writes a drama column for various media. Her main publications include "All Important Things Are Taught by Morning Drama" (Ota Publishing), "KinKiKids: Owarinaki Michi" and "Hey!Say!JUMP: When 9 Tobira Open" (both from Earls Publishing).

  • Photographs Masayuki Kikuchi

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