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The Transformation of the JASDF's Intelligence and Surveillance Capabilities for Air and Missile Defence

Authors: Desmond Ball and Richard Tanter

Volume 8, Number 3 (Spring 2012), pp. 19-56.

An online addendum to the article is available here.


Over the past decade, the Japanese Air Self-Defence Force (JASDF) has undergone an extraordinary transformation with respect to the intelligence and surveillance elements of its air and missile defence capabilities. Advanced sorts of ground-based signals intelligence (SIGINT) and radar systems have been developed and are mostly now operational around the country. Older systems have been extensively upgraded. All of the air intelligence and radar systems have been thoroughly integrated into a single complex, with the radar systems comprehensively networked, and the electronic intelligence (ELINT) collection, early-warning, and aircraft and missile tracking activities coordinated and the intelligence products correlated at several levels. Moreover, the HQ of the JASDF’s Air Defence Command has now moved to the HQ of US Forces Japan at Yokota Air Base, providing it with direct access to the US space-based missile launch detection system as well as other US missile defence assets. Many of the new facilities are clearly situated to monitor electronic activity in North Korea and to track North Korean long-range ballistic missiles that might be aimed at or pass over Japanese territory. Others, now emplaced on Okinawa and elsewhere down the Ryukyu Island chain, are part of broader efforts by Japan to expand its collection of electromagnetic signals emanating from China and to strengthen its defences against China’s modernising air, maritime and missile forces. The new capabilities should provide Japan with the ability to detect, track and intercept relatively small numbers of long-range (including nuclear-armed) missiles, such as North Korea could launch, with a high degree of confidence. In the case of China, the initial priority is to complete ELINT and radar coverage of Chinese air activities around the islands south of Okinawa. Against Chinese strategic nuclear forces, equipped with a wide array of delivery systems, the situation remains problematic. Japan’s most recent National Defence Program Outline, approved by the cabinet in December 2010, stated that, as one key response to the complex, post-Cold War security environment Japan now faces, upgrading and expanding the Self Defence Force’s (SDF) intelligence capacities will be a priority for the government. The Outline commits the SDF in future to “ensure information supremacy through continuous ISR [intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance] in the country and its surrounding areas”. Yet what is most remarkable is that over the past decade the SDF has already very considerably expanded these capacities. This article examines one aspect of those developments to date: the Air Self Defence Force’s intelligence and surveillance capacities for air and missile defence.

About the Authors

Desmond Ball is a Professor in the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, Canberra. He was Head of the Centre from 1984 to 1991. desmond.ball@anu.edu.au.

Richard Tanter is Senior Research Associate at the Nautilus Institute, and Professorial Fellow at the School of Political and Social Sciences, University of Melbourne rtanter@nautilus.org.


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