April 3, 2008

Memo to Japan: You Are Aware There's a War On... Right?

Hatched by Sachi

On February 19th, a Japanese Aegis destroyer, JS Atago, equipped with an advanced radar system, collided with a small fishing boat Seitokumaru off the Boso Peninsula in Chiba Prefecture. Tragically, the accident killed a father-and-son pair of fishermen aboard Seitokumaru. Atago was on her way home from Pearl Harbor, having just finished four grueling months of training and testing in Hawaii waters.

It seemed a mere traffic accident, and it had nothing to do with the Aegis system or the radar installation. However, it was the latest in a series of mishaps and scandals that have plagued the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF -- the Japanese "navy") over the last couple of years. The Minister of Defense egregiously mishandled the collision investigation and public relations, further exposing the deep-seated problems of the ministry itself; and the Japanese press instantly blamed Aegis, demanding to know why a multi-million dollar system designed to intercept missiles in flight didn't somehow make a fishing trawler get out of Atago's way.

The stunned ministry took severe disciplinary action against 88 defense-ministry officials and service members, including Adm. Eiji Yoshikawa, MSDF chief of staff. (This does not include Atago's captain or crew, since the investigation is still underway.) The crew were confined aboard the ship in port, essentially in jail, for over a month; they were subjected to harsh treatment from zealous investigators and scathing criticism from the media. One sailor who'd been on watch the morning of the accident actually attempted to "cut his stomach" -- commit suicide to save his face.

The "mere traffic accident" has metastisized into a full-blown fiasco for the Maritime SDF...

The government concluded that Yoshikawa, who took office in August 2006, should take responsibility for a series of accidents and blunders, including a fire on the destroyer Shirane at Yokosuka base in Kanagawa Prefecture in December 2007 and the leakage of confidential information, including data on the Aegis system....

Kohei Masuda, vice defense minister, will have his pay cut by 10 percent for two months.

Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba said he will return two months of salary for the minister's post in a self-imposed disciplinary measure.

Year 2007 did not start well for JMSDF. In March, a petty officer second class from Destroyer JS Shirane -- yes, the same ship that later had a huge fire -- was arrested for illegally removing classified Aegis-related information from his ship and giving it to his Chinese wife:

Police confiscated digital storage devices containing the data during a search in January of the home of the 33-year-old petty officer 2nd class in connection with his Chinese wife, who is suspected of violating immigration law. The couple were not identified, and the law the wife was suspected of violating was not specified.

Information on her current status was not provided.

The hard drives and other storage media contained Aegis destroyer radar data and telecommunications frequencies, sources said.

Since the unidentified PO2 did not have authorized access to any secret information, police realized that higher up personnel had to be involved in the leak. A 43 year old lieutenant commander was later arrested as well, and he implicated 34 year old Lt.Com. Sumitaka Matsuuchi.

Note: The linked Sankei Newspaper’s article is in Japanese; this quote comes from the same article from the English-language Yomiuri Newspaper, from which no link is available.

A 34-year-old Maritime Self-Defense Force lieutenant commander was arrested Thursday on suspicion of leaking top-secret information about key functions of MSDF Aegis destroyers.

The Kanagawa prefectural police and the MSDF’s Criminal Investigation Command arrested Sumitaka Matsuuchi, a former member of the MSDF’s vessel development team in Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, on suspicion of violating the Law Concerning the Protection of Secrets for the Japan-U.S. Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement.

It was the first time for a person to be arrested under the law since its enactment in 1954. The law prohibits the leaking of information about weaponry and warships containing U.S. technology.

According to investigators, Matsuuchi used the SDF internal mail service to send a compact disc holding a computer file of top secret information to one of his colleagues around August 2002, at which time he was working for the vessel development division.

By doing so, he leaked secret material to the 43-year-old lieutenant commander, who was an instructor at the MSDF’s First Service School in Etajima, Hiroshima Prefecture, the investigators said.

Matsuuchi admitted the allegation. He told the investigators: “It’s true I handed it to a lieutenant commander who studied in the United States with me after he asked for it. I knew it was top secret material, but I sent it by the SDF’s internal mail delivery service anyway.”

I want to clarify one interesting point about the age of the unnamed lieutenant commander, because it leads directly into the real problem with the Japanese Maritime SDF: In the Japanese military, members often reach a rank plateau and simply stay there for the rest of their careers. Thus it's not unusual to find a 43 year old lieutenant commander (O-4) who remains at that rank for fifteen years.

Why? Because a central problem for the Japanese military is that neither the government nor the country itself really sees the "Self Defence Force" as a real army or the Maritime SDF as a real navy. Japan has been "allergic" to having a real military ever since the Japanese parliamentary democracy was founded after the post-World War II occupation ended.

2007 ended as it began -- with another blow to the pride of the Maritime SDF: JS Shirane, the same ship from which the second class stole the classified information, caught fire when a sailor brought a defective "unauthorized space heater" aboard:

Japanese MSDF 5200 ton destroyer Shirane scheduled to sail out early morning on December 15, caught fire at about 2220 hours on December 14. The Shirane destroyer can hold three helicopters and this is the first Japanese warship to carry a three-dimensional radar....

This fire cause substantial damage to the ship and inured three sailors.

Last year, I worked in Hawaii with a number of members of the Japanese Self Defense Force (SDF). Right after Japan’s first ballistic-missile defense ship, JS Kongo, successfully completed a live firing event, I talked extensively with the public affair officer from Japan. He told me the success of Kongo was very important because the "series of unfortunate events" surrounding the Aegis program had tarnished the Maritime SDF’s reputation, driving public support to an all time low.

The SDF desperately hoped for the total success of Atago’s Aegis system test events in early 2008... and they were not disappointed. Atago successfully completed the final live firing tests in February, and everyone -- including all the American team members I spoke to -- was ecstatic. Finally, they thought, the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force will become the pride of the Japanese people!

Then on the way home, Atago crashed into the fishing trawler.

When I first heard that almost 90 military and civilian personnel were being disciplined, I thought the Japanese government had gone into overkill, as usual. But the more I think about it, the more convinced I become that this purge may be just what they need.

The impression I got from working with JMSDF servicemen is mixed:

  • On the one hand, they are highly efficient, professional, and eager to learn.
  • But on the other hand, they have a certain unseriousness that disturbs me. They seem to think the military is just a jobs program with quirky gamerules.

For a simple example, in the United States Navy, we have a rule that officers and enlisted men must "move up or move out;" if a service member is not promoted after several opportunities, he's pushed out the door (I believe this is also true for the other branches). This keeps a constant circulation of new blood in the service and prevents the military from becoming a dumping ground for useless officers and non-coms who are simply given a "window seat," a Japanese term from the days when nobody was ever fired -- but some employees were sidelined into do-nothing jobs where they couldn't cause any damage.

Don’t get me wrong, the SDF service personnel I interacted with were vigilant about checking visitors IDs and logging all recording media that came in to or went out from the ship. They may think the gamerules are peculiar, but they normally follow them.

But oftentimes they forgot that unclassified and classified media should never be mixed; and I believe it was because they never got the underlying point behind the regulations.

For another example, Japanese sailors train for emergency procedures vigorously, much more than their American counterparts. But the training scenarios are always predetermined and known in advance to all the sailors; they would know the exact day and time of the drill -- which in my opinion defeats the whole point of emergency training.

Just as they treat the military as a jobs program, the SDF is simply not on a “war footing” in any other respect. Nobody seems to take the Self Defense Forces seriously as a real military... and that is a fatal flaw.

China poses a much bigger threat to Japan than to the United States. The Chinese government is quite hostile to Japan, and of course much closer; and that's not even taking into account their other enemy, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea -- or their very intense competitor, the Republic of Korea. Seeing what China is doing to the Tibetans, and remembering all the Japanese civilials who were kidnapped over the years by North Korea, it's astonishing that the Japanese imagine those countries would never attack Japan.

Serviceman with access to highly classified information must start taking their responsibilities seriously; they must understand that the beautiful Chinese girl who is overfriendly may very well be a spy.

This is no April Fool; the Chinese government has one of the most active, world-wide human-intelligence spying program in the world. In fact, Gregg Bergersen, a weapons analyst at the Pentagon, just pled guilty to transferring classified air-defense information to a Chinese businessman, Tai Kuo, whom he thought "only" had connections to Taiwan, but who turned out to be a spy for Red China. Kuo is a naturalized American citizen.

The nonchalant attitude towards security on the part of so many Japanese members of the Self Defense Forces and the defense ministry, and towards basic safety -- such as not using unauthorized electric devices on board and failing ot keep an observant watch on the deck -- are all symptoms of fundamental unseriousness about the global war against caliphism. The entire culture of the SDF needs to be upended and overhauled: The Self Defense Force needs to become real military.

The hostility of Japanese public opinion towards the SDF in Japan is unbelievable. Before any details of the accident become clear, the Japanese elite media had already indicted and convicted the sailors. In such a political environment, it seems impossible to imagine turning the SDF into a real, full-time, professional military; but the fate of Japan as a significant power in the 21st century demands it.

I have no idea if they can finally grow beyond the simplistic "war, what is it good for?" meme they absorbed following the catastrophic defeat in 1945... but if they cannot, I'm afraid they will never be able to maintain their economic hegemony in the Orient. Japan can defend its own prosperity without having to recreate the Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere.

Hatched by Sachi on this day, April 3, 2008, at the time of 7:04 PM

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The following hissed in response by: Don

Interesting. I am wondering whether this line of reasoning may not explain the behavior of certain NATO allies also. Obviously not the Brits, Canadians, Polish, etc. These militaries know that they are in a serious business and they may be required to fight a shooting war. But look at the Germans for example.

Obviously the Germans had a serious military not too long ago before the fall of the Berlin Wall. In those days the Budeswehr provided many of the troops on the front line of the NATO defense against the Red Army, and were considered good steady troops. In those days West Germany devoted about 5% of their GDP to defense. But after the collapse of the Berlin Wall Germany enthusiatically embraced the 'peace dividend' to the point where defense expenditure fell to about 1% of the GDP of unified Germany. It has been some time since anyone took the German army very seriously, certainly since their non-show at Kosovo. Germany essentially outsourced it's defense to it's allies - primarily the US and UK and didn't even make a minimum effort to contribute it's fair share to the alliance.

Effectively Germans have been treating the US as unpaid mercenaries, and increasingly reviled mercenaries in recent years.

One of the current issues withion the alliance is the non-show of the Germans in Afghanistan. They have sent 3000+ garrison troops to the peaceul north but have refused to send troops to fight in the south. Ostensibly on principled grounds, but I have increasingly come to suspect that they have sent no combat forces for an excellent reason - they HAVE no combat-ready forces!

This is not merely a serious issue for NATO, I would term it a 'grave' issue - in the full meaning of the old diplomatic meaning of that word. When a nation is 'gravely concerned' in diplomatic parlance it means that it is contemplating war or at least the use of force.

There is no question of the US/UK/Canada using force against Germany of course - but we could leave NATO - either de-facto or de-jure. And if Germany and many of the other NATO 'allies' continue their policy of 'hollowing-out' their military forces whilst leaving the few remaining serious members to bear an increasing share of the total burden I think we will have no choice but to do so. I also think we may be approaching the point of no return.

The above hissed in response by: Don [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 4, 2008 4:42 AM

The following hissed in response by: SlimGuy

Japan is considering expanding their navy due to the extensive influence of China's growing navy in the oil routes from the mideast.

The professionalism issues and security weakness is the big stopping point in Japan asking for being put on the list for sales of Raptor fighters. With the current state of affairs that is a definite non starter.

JSF fine, Raptor no way Jose.

Also it is a two sided sword with history of Japan and China...look at what was done when Japan was in China before.

The above hissed in response by: SlimGuy [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 4, 2008 7:58 AM

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