Japan’s Ground Self-Defence Force is overhauling its electronic warfare posture, both in force weight and capabilities.
Reflecting ever-present tensions in East Asia, Japan’s Ministry of Defence (MoD) announced in November that it plans to deploy an Electronic Warfare (EW) unit to Yonaguni Island. Yonaguni is one of Japan’s most southerly islands and lies off the east coast of Taiwan. Local news reports stated that the EW unit would be drawn from the Japan Ground Self Defence Force (JGSDF).
The JGSDF is in the midst of an overarching modernisation of its EW capabilities and posture. This is arguably driven by two threats: this first is continuing tensions with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). The Japanese government also appears perturbed of late by bellicose rhetoric from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) towards Taiwan.
The unit which will deploy to Yonaguni maybe drawn from the JGSDF’s 1st Electronic Warfare Battalion (1 EW Bn). According to the International Institute of Strategic Studies’ 2021 Military Balance this is deployed with the JGSDF’s combat support element. The battalion contains three EW companies and is headquartered at JGSDF Camp Higashi-Chitose, near Hokkaido Island’s south coast. Although not mentioned in open sources, it is entirely possible that one of these three EW companies may deploy to Yonaguni.
Strategically and operationally deploying the EW unit to Yonaguni Island makes sense. The former is a mere 60 nautical miles (111 kilometres) due west of Taiwan. Yonaguni forms part of the Okinawa Archipelago stretching northeast towards the main Japanese Islands.
It is apparent that relations between the PRC and Taiwan are at a nadir. October 2021 saw the PRC’s government criticise Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen’s speech on the Republic of China’s National Day. President Tsai promised to continue bolstering Taiwan’s defences. She said this was driven by the PRC’s threats to seek Taiwan’s incorporation into mainland China by force if necessary. The PRC’s Global Times newspaper, a Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece, went further. It called for a “final solution to the Taiwan question”. The rhetoric did little to cool tensions which have continued to increase. Towards the end of 2021 People’s Liberation Army (PLA) military aircraft ramped up their flights in Taiwan’s air defence identification zone (ADIZ).
Sino-Japanese relations have experienced bouts of tension since the end of the Second World War. Nonetheless, the global COVID-19 pandemic has seen relations improve. Local Japanese news sources documented the mutual assistance provided by the two countries. In 2020, the PRC donated 12,500 COVID-19 testing kits to Japan. Japanese companies donated over $6 million to the PRC, along with over three million face masks, to help China’s fight the disease. Japan finds herself in a delicate situation regarding the PRC and Taiwan. On the one hand Beijing is ratcheting up the rhetoric regarding the island while on the other current relations between Japan and the PRC appear smooth.
Still, moving an EW unit to Yonaguni maybe a prudent move. There is the danger that the PRC could succeed in occupying Taiwan and incorporating the island into China. The Okinawa archipelago would be adjacent to what would then probably be a large PLA presence on Taiwan. This could potentially threaten the rest of the Japan. Deploying an EW unit to Yonaguni is almost certainly meant to have a deterrent effect warning the PRC not to venture any further into Japanese territory should the unthinkable happen. Could the EW unit aid the Republic of China’s armed force during a crisis? Possibly, but it would risk Japan being dragged into the mess. For now, it seems safe to assume that the unit is in Yonaguni chiefly for deterrence.
Standing Up EW
Alongside the deployment of the unit to Yonaguni, new EW assets are being raised to support other JGSDF commands. In June 2020, AMR’s sister publication Armada International reported that the JGSDF was planning to deploy an EW unit to Kyushu Island in the southwest of Japan’s Northeastern Honshu Arc.
Local news reports in early 2021 confirmed that this new company-sized unit had been activated at Camp Kengun. It is the first of seven of planned new JGSDF EW companies each of around 80 personnel. This first unit at Camp Kengun has been designated the 301st EW Company. It will provide EW support to the JGSDF’s Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade (ARDB). Part of the Western Army, the ARDB has two amphibious regiments, a single amphibious assault battalion, one reconnaissance company and one logistics battalion. This formation would be tasked with recapturing Japanese islands occupied during hostilities.
A further six EW companies are planned for activation between April 2021 and March 2022. No details appear to have been shared with the public domain regarding which JGSDF formations these will furnish. By cross-referencing the locations of these new units, one can anticipate which formations they maybe deployed with. For example, an EW company will be deployed at Camp Rumoi on the west of Hokkaido Island. This will likely be deployed with the Northern Army. It could provide EW support to the 2nd and 7th Divisions, and 5th and 11th Brigades. An EW company will be activated at Camp Asaka, Tokyo. This could have the Eastern Army as a parent and provide EW support to the 1st Division and 12th Air Assault Brigade. It seems that the Western Army may receive the lion’s share of the new EW companies. One will be deployed to Camp Ainoura on the west of Kyushu Island possibly providing EW support to the 8th Division. An additional company could be deployed to Camp Amami on Amami-Oshima Island in the northeast of the Okinawa Archipelago. This unit will be joined by another two at Camp Naha and Vice Camp Chinen on southern Okinawa Island. All three will provide EW support to the 15th Brigade, responsible for defending the Okinawa Archipelago.
Judging from the planned timeline of introduction, this could mean that the JGSDF commissions a new EW company approximately every two months. It would unsurprising if the numerical designation for the other six awaiting activation sequentially followed that of the 301st EW Company. The JGSDF’s EW headquarters will be at Camp Asaka. Its’ signal school, where EW training is thought to take place, is located on the capital’s outskirts.
The decision to activate these units was the result of national defence guidelines issued in 2018. These stressed that the electromagnetic spectrum must be considered integral to offensive and defensive military actions, alongside space and cyber space. Until the government’s decision in 2018, the 1 EW Bn headquartered at Camp Higashi-Chitose was the JGSDF’s sole dedicated EW unit. This was deployed to Camp Higashi-Chitose due to its physical proximity to the southeast and eastern Soviet Union.
What will happen to this unit remains open to question. Will the three EW companies of the 1 EW Bn work alongside the seven new formations, giving the JGSDF a total of ten dedicated EW companies? Alternatively, will the 1 EW Bn be disbanded and the seven new EW units take up the burden? Otherwise will the 1 EW Bn be enlarged to include its existing formations and the new units? Time will tell.
Doctrinally, local reports note that the JGSDF will be tasked with several missions. These will include traditional land forces EW roles detecting and locating hostile units based on their radio transmissions. Traditionally, land EW also exploits those transmissions for intelligence, and attacks them when required. Alongside this mission JGSDF EW doctrine stresses the detection, location and attack of hostile radars in the sea, land and air domains. The doctrine also prescribes similar actions against hostile sea and air communications.
In this respect, the new EW units are to be truly joint in their focus. It is also noteworthy that Camp Kengun is home to a 40-strong cyber unit. The collocation of these two units seemingly indicates a synergy between JGSDF electronic and cyber warfare capabilities. Much like the jointness evident in the JGSDF’s EW doctrine coalescing cyber and EW capabilities will let these complement one another. On the battlefield, as much as in any domain, electronic attack is the means to deliver a cyberattack into hostile command and control networks. At the tactical and operational levels battlefield communications networks nearly always use wireless links. Penetrating these radio networks is therefore essential for the delivery of cyberattacks.
Integral to the overhaul of the JGSDF’s EW capabilities is the procurement of new systems in the guise of the Mitsubishi Electric NEWS electronic warfare platform. NEWS is an acronym for the Networked EW System which is mounted on a Toyota Type-73 truck. NEWS comprises four distinct systems; NEWS Type-1, Type-2, Type-3 and Type-4. Open sources state that each overs a different frequency band and has a different role. Development of NEWS commenced in 2010. Testing was completed in 2015.
In 2020 the MOD allotted $87 million for the procurement of NEWS. Little information has been made available in the public domain regarding NEWS writ large. Open sources state that the ensemble can detect and jam threats in frequencies of 30 megahertz/MHz to circa 40 gigahertz. This will enable NEWS to detect, locate, characterise and attack a host of radio and radar emitters. This could include very/ultra high frequency conventional radio and Satellite Communications (SATCOM) on wavebands of 30MHz to three gigahertz/GHz. Ground-based air surveillance, naval surveillance, airborne surveillance, weapons-locating and fire control radars and SATCOM transmitting in L-band (1.215GHz to 1.4GHz), S-band (2.3GHz to 2.5GHz/2.7GHz to 3.7GHz), C-band (5.25GHz to 5.925GHz) and X-band (8.5GHz to 10.68GHz) could also be detected and engaged.
Higher up the radio spectrum NEWS could detect and engage fire control and weapons guidance radars, and SATCOM transmitting in Ku-band (13.4GHz to 14GHz/15.7GHz to 17.7GHz) and Ka-band (33.4GHz to 36GHz). An important caveat must be made regarding these impressive capabilities. Detecting and attacking any transmission in these frequencies depends on NEWS being within a line-of-sight range from these targets. Secondly, NEWS must have the wherewithal to defeat the low probability of detection/interception waveforms used by contemporary and future radar and radio systems. Nonetheless, given Japanese acumen in electronic engineering it would be unsurprising if such competencies have not been mastered.
NEWS has already begun to furnish the 1 EW Bn. It will form the mainstay of the new JGSDF EW companies for the foreseeable future, which looks set to be characterised by continued instability in eastern Asia. This is likely to still be driven by DPRK and PRC muscle-flexing. JGSDF EW investments indicate the force’s embrace of electromagnetic manoeuvre to achieve electromagnetic superiority and supremacy. In the worst-case scenario this will make the JGSDF a formidable player in the wartime electromagnetic domain. In the best case these capabilities will have deterrent value helping to keep the peace in this tense part of the world.
by Dr. Thomas Withington