Thursday 8 September 2022

Aid From Asia: Japan’s Military Support To Ukraine

Japan has traditionally maintained one of the strictest armament export policies in the world, which has for the most part prevented Japanese defence companies and government agencies from exporting or even donating military equipment to other countries. The fact that the Japanese government amended its own guidelines to bypass laws that would otherwise have prevented it from supplying Ukraine with military aid should thus be seen as highly exceptional. Although the resulting deliveries have remained limited to non-lethal equipment, the move to supply war-torn Ukraine with military equipment is unprecedented in Japan's modern history. Military aid has so far included 40 small reconnaissance UAVs, 6900 helmets and 1900 bulletproof vests.

The efforts by Japan to aid Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion of February 24 were kickstarted by a letter to the Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi from Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine's Minister of Defence on February 25. [1] In the letter, Reznikov asked for the delivery of military equipment from Japan to help Ukraine repel Russia's invasion. Even though Nobuo Kishi's hands were bound by Japan's strict export regulations, Kishi reportedly instructed his department to 'find what can be done!' [1] Thus began an onerous journey for the Japanese government to find out what items it could send while remaining within the limits of the strict laws set by previous administrations in the 1960s and 1970s.
The Japanese Ministry of Defence first looked into Article 116-3 of the Self-Defense Forces Law, which stipulates that excess equipment of the Self-Defense Forces can be transferred to developing allied countries. [1] However, Article 116-3 specifically excludes the transfer of armament and munitions, preventing the supply of most of the equipment requested by Reznikov in his February 25 letter. Another hurdle to overcome was the 'Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment' policy adopted in 1967, which prohibits the export of (non-lethal) military equipment to "parties to the conflict". [1] A "party to the conflict" as defined in the policy is "a country subject to certain UN Security Council measures." Only North Korea and Iraq have ever been subjected to the specific measures required to be defined as ''a party to conflict'' by the 'Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment' policy. Thus, Japan was free to supply Ukraine with non-lethal defence equipment as ironically it's not "party to the conflict" according to Japanese law. [1]

However, the Japanese MoD then ran into problems with the "operation guideline", which limits the supply of non-lethal equipment solely to items used for the purposes of transport, rescue, patrol (ships), surveillance and demining. [1] This thus precluded the transfer of helmets and bulletproof vests as these are considered defensive equipment by Japan's Export Trade Control Ordinance. To bypass these strict regulations, the Japanese government declared that the Type 88 helmets used by its own military are technically not military equipment since they can also be bought on the private market – certainly a creative interpretation. [1] To avoid future issues in supplying countries with non-lethal equipment such as helmets, the Japanese government also voiced its intent to add these along with bulletproof vests to the ''operational guideline''. After this interesting but arduous game of bureaucratic hoop-jumping, 6900 Type 88 helmets and 1900 Type 3 Kai bulletproof vests along with other military clothing and humanitarian aid were then flown onboard JASDF KC-767 and C-2 transport aircraft to Europe over the course of March 2022.
Ukraine's ambassador to Japan Sergiy Korsunsky (who famously dressed up in a samurai outfit), met with the Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi on March 9, the day after the departure of the first flight, to express his gratitude for the delivered equipment and to request other items such as weapons sights and combat knives. As the Russo-Ukrainian War has meanwhile passed its half-year mark, Japan continues to supply Ukraine with military aid, with a further batch of ten reconnaissance UAVs having arrived in the country in August. [2] Japanese support for Ukraine will likely remain strong, with Russia's decision to suspend talks with Japan over the status of the Russian-occupied four southernmost Kuril Islands only adding fuel to the fire. The joining of the sanctions regime imposed against Russia and the provision of $300 million in aid in addition to the nearly $2 billion provided since 2014 shows Japan is unafraid to take a clear stance in the conflict, and will do anything it can do to skirt its own restrictive regulations to make good on its support. [3]

Japanese aid on the way to Ukraine, March 2022.

The following list attempts to keep track of (non-lethal) equipment delivered or pledged to Ukraine by Japan during the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. The entries below are sorted by equipment category (with a flag denoting the country of origin). This list will be updated as further support is declared.
(Click on the equipment type to get a picture of them)

Reconnaissance UAVs

Counter Unmanned Aerial Systems (C-UAS) Systems

  • 1 C-UAS Drone Detection System [To be delivered]



Military Gear

Miscellaneous Equipment

  •  Communications Equipment [March 2022]
  •  Satellite Phones [March 2022]
  • Binoculars [Delivered from March 2022 onwards]
  • 240 Tents [March 2022]
  • Generators [March 2022]
  • 50 Cameras [March 2022]
  • Lighting Devices [March 2022]
  • Medical Supplies [March 2022]
  • 140.000 Emergency Rations [March 2022 and June 2023]
  • ALIS Mine Detection Equipment [April 2023]
  • Protective Equipment For Pyrotechnicians [April 2023]

A Japanese C-2 transport aircraft loaded with aid for Ukraine is waved goodbye as it departs for Europe.

Header image by Tetsuro Takehana.
[1] 防弾チョッキ提供 ウクライナに武器輸出?
[2] The Ministry of Defense of Japan will hand over vans and drones to Ukraine  

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