Wednesday, 22 March 2023

Doubling Down: Japan’s Military Donations

By Stijn Mitzer and Joost Oliemans
After decades of bidding for peace, Japan is now once more preparing for the possibility of war, for the first time truly introducing offensive capabilities to the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) and installing long-range anti-ship missiles on islands near Taiwan. Despite its post-Cold War hopes of diplomatically resolving its territorial conflicts, it now finds itself perched at the edge of an increasingly assertive China and Russia (which still occupies four of Japan's southernmost Kuril Islands) and a nuclear-capable North Korea. As part of its attempts to strengthen its military posture, Japan is also seeking to increase the capabilities of Asian countries against Chinese interference and enhance sea surveillance, most notably the Philippines and Malaysia.
Though this support has so far remained limited to the donation of unarmed patrol craft, trainer aircraft and non-lethal equipment, Japan is looking for additional ways to up its contributions amid legislative changes that finally allow Japan to export military equipment abroad. The Philippines was the first nation to purchase military equipment from Japan, acquiring two 96m-long patrol vessels and several air surveillance radars in 2020. Japan subsequently pledged ¥210 million to enhance the maintenance capabilities of the Philippine Coast Guard to service these vessels. [1] The Philippines has already been the recipient of ten 44m-long patrol craft whose construction was funded by the Japanese government and five ex-JSDF Beechcraft King Air TC-90 twin-engine aircraft, and is set to receive a number of UH-1J helicopters in 2023 or 2024. Vietnam has similarly been the recipient of Japanese aid, receiving six fishery patrol vessels in 2016 and 2018. In September 2021, both countries signed an agreement that allows Japan to give defence equipment and technology to Vietnam as the two countries gradually step up their military cooperation. [2]

Initiatives by Japanese private organisations have also made an important contribution to maritime security in the Pacific. The Nippon Foundation is one of the organisations that has been donating funds and even patrol vessels to countries in the Pacific, and in 2018 it even donated a new 40-meter patrol vessel to the island country and microstate of Palau. [3] Whether to reign in Chinese influence or combatting poaching or illegal fishing, government and private donations contribute to maritime security in the Pacific in one way or another.

One of the ten Philippine Coast Guard Parola-class patrol craft whose construction was funded by Japan.

Japan's efforts to aid Ukraine in its fight against the Russian invasion of February 24 were first kickstarted by a letter to the Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi from Oleksii Reznikov, Ukraine's Minister of Defence on February 25, 2022. [4] In the letter, Reznikov first asked for the delivery of military equipment from Japan. Kishi's hands were bound by Japan's strict export regulations, and 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 since the 1960s.
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. [4] However, Article 116-3 specifically excludes the transfer of armament and munitions. 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". [4] 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' 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. [4]

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. [4] 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.

A Ukrainian soldier dons Japanese military clothing. While Japan's military support to Ukraine has so far exclusively consisted of non-lethal items, even this level of support was unthinkable just a few years ago.

Given developments in Ukraine and closer to Japan's (sea) borders, it seems highly likely that Ukraine and Asian countries will continue to be the recipient of military equipment donated by Japan. Maintaining a military apparatus that is undergoing constant modernisation, this could in the future also include retired JSDF equipment such as tanks, helicopters and ships, which are generally maintained in meticulous condition. Until that moment, Ukraine is sure to press the Japanese government for additional military support, undoubtedly leading to further bureaucratic hoop-jumping as the government scuffles to remain within the limits of the laws set by previous administrations.
A list of military equipment and other heavy equipment known to have been donated by the government of Japan to other countries can be viewed below. Private donations are not included in this list. When the number of donated items and their date of delivery are known, they are added as such. This list is updated as new donations are reported.

(Click on the equipment type to view a picture of them in service with their new operators)




[3] Japan Patrol Vessel Donation to Help Palau Counter Maritime Threats
[4] 防弾チョッキ提供 ウクライナに武器輸出?
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