Japan’s manpower-light defense strategy is a flawed ‘paper plan,’ officers say

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Originally published by Reuters

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Editor’s Note: This piece by Kaori Kaneko and Tim Kelly features a quote from CSP Senior Fellow Grant Newsham.

Japan’s plan to undertake its biggest military build-up since World War Two without increasing headcount is flawed, former and serving officers told Reuters, casting doubt over the country’s efforts to deter regional rivals China and North Korea. The five-year plan unveiled on Friday will double Japan’s defense spending and add new capabilities, including long-range missiles and an expanded cyber warfare unit. It will not, however, boost the size of its military, called the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), above a ceiling of 247,000 people set more than a decade ago.

Instead, it will retire attack helicopters, search-and-rescue planes and old warships in favor of drones and vessels that require fewer sailors, while also relying on civilian contractors for training and some limited support operations. “It is just a paper plan and that should be corrected,” said Yoji Koda, a retired navy admiral, who commanded the Japanese fleet in 2007-2008. “Manpower is the real issue for Japan to defend against China and North Korea,” he added. Koda said the plan would limit Japan’s ability to fight in situations such as land invasions and sea battles, giving its foes an advantage.


“If the Japanese think automation… is going to make up for the personnel disaster they’ve got, they can forget about it,” said Grant Newsham, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel and research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies who served as a USMC liaison officer to the SDF.

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