Interesting editorial in the Sankei on Sunday. Prime Minister Kan is certainly disliked at the Sankei, and also among many bureaucrats for lacking leadership when it is needed and being impatient when he lacks the facts. It is with this small piece of background knowledge that I give you this very rough translation from the Sankei’s “Off-the-Record Gossip” section of its political coverage:

PM Kan as Self-Styled Military Nerd – “Interest in FX”

One Japanese blogger accompanied his own posting of this article with this image. It adequately describes the sentiment raised in the Japanese right upon reading this.

One Japanese blogger accompanied his own posting of this article with this image. It adequately describes the sentiment raised in the Japanese right upon reading this (Source: Pandemonium Sokohou)

Faced with the selection trials for the Air Self-Defense Force’s Next-Generation Fighter, with fierce competition in the defense industry, Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s proposal is making waves among the government. These remarks which we feel like we’ve heard before about the ‘straying’ of the program, signal the bureaucracy’s intent to retreat at this early stage.

Response to the Photograph

“Actually, I’m deeply interested in the FX program.”

Prime Minister Kan began as he leaned forward in his office in the Prime Minister’s residence. On the estranged US-Japanese security alliance, “As the supreme commander of the Self-Defense Forces, I’ve studied the laws related to the SDF time and time again,” Kan uttered with a lack of self-awareness, there was no mistaking the unexpected concern of the on-looking Ministry of Defense administration.

On the table were the MoD’s documents detailing the framework of the program. The FX program, seeking a successor to the ASDF’s F-4 fighter in service since 1971, has three possible candidates: 1) the F-35 Lightning II under joint development by the US, UK and others, 2) the US Navy’s FA-18E/F, 3) the European jointly-developed Eurofighter in use with in Britain, Germany, Italy and elsewhere.

Upon seeing the photographs of the three fighters attached to the documents, Kan immediately responded: “Ah, this is…”, pointing at the models also present.

With the possible cost of one FX fighter now passing ¥10,000,000,000, the defense industry and trading companies are squirming in a major sales war. Because of this, the MoD’s management told Kan, resisting the urge to make a joke of it, not to “just simply point at the models inconclusively”, but Kan uttered, “This time, I’ll be quiet,” and returned to a listening role.

On the FX program, Kan considers himself a “military nerd” but the seems unaware of the facts in this exchange. In persisting to remain as a listener, it is possible that he was just thinking of himself when asking questions, rather than just having no opinions. It could have just been a bluff.

Dangerous Signs

Kan’s behaving as an expert is a dangerous sign.
It recalls his statement that he  understands “a great deal about nuclear energy,” which Kan then took back by saying, “As I’m not an expert on nuclear energy, I do not know everything there is to know about it.”

Pretending to be an expert → becomes increasingly confused → dodges responsibility by retracting his statement. This is the change Kan underwent when faced with the Fukushima Dai-Ichi Nuclear Power Plant incident, this immediate withdrawal alone is worthy of being called a ‘blunder’.

He cannot be excused from this FX selection blunder either. The most vital key to the improvement and strengthening of Japan’s air defense capabilities in the next few decades is the FX program.

The Chinese are working on a low radar-observable stealthy fifth-generation fighter which will apparently be deployed in 2017.

In its response to China, the ASDF favors the F-35 as essential. The F-35 is the only fifth-generation fighter among the contenders, and it emphasises that  “No matter how many improvements are made to a fourth-generation fighter, it’ll never surpass a fifth-generation model.”

Complex Situation
Nevertheless, dark clouds hang over the adoption of the F-35. While Japan will have to wait until Spring 2017 for the final stage of development, practical testing, the Japanese government is demanding that FX program winner enter service by March of that year. It all seems hopeless.

Additionally, the situation is more complicated than with previous aircraft selection plans – that is due to desire to preserve Japan’s domestic fighter manufacturing and technical skills.

In September this year, the ASDF will be supplied with its final F-2 fighter and the production line will stop, and there are worries that subcontractors will disappear and skilled workers will lose their jobs. This will be the end to fighter production that has continued since the introduction of the production of the F-86 under license in 1955.

The expectation that the F-35 will be produced under license is weak, and so if the F-35 is chosen, there is the challenge of finding a solution to maintain Japan’s domestic defense industry’s fundamental skills.

That this judgement is being entrusted to Prime Minister Kan makes me exceedingly uneasy. Just before the cabinet decision on the National Defense Program Outline in December last year, in attempting to interest the Social Democratic Party in greater cooperation, Prime Minister Kan dampened down the prospect of softening the Three Principles on Arms Exports, which greatly affects the welfare of the defense industry. He is a statesman holding a bargain sale on the national interest and politics.

The climax of this equipment selection process is approaching. In September, the US and British governments and defense industries will release proposals detailing the efficiencies and outlays of their respective programs. After receiving these, the Ministry of Defense will examine the reports and make a decision on the final candidate by the end of November. In December, in consultation with the Security Council of Japan, the expenses will be included into the draft budget for the following year.

I wonder if Kan will still be prime minister and chairman of the Security Council at that time. If he continues to brandish his concerns about FX to continue his political life, it will be a sad result for the nation.

(By Naohisa Hanzawa)

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A former contributor to World Intelligence (Japan Military Review), James Simpson joined Japan Security Watch in 2011, migrating with his blog Defending Japan. He has a Masters in Security Studies from Aberystwyth University and is currently living in Kawasaki, Japan. His primary interests include the so-called 'normalization' of Japanese security (i.e. militarization), and the political impact of the abduction issue with North Korea.
James Simpson has 254 post(s) on Japan Security Watch