Japan MoD releases technology priorities, vision for improved R&D

Illustration : Yomiuri Shimbun file photo – The main gate of the Defense Ministry is seen in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo.


On 28 June the Japanese Ministry of Defense released an English translation of its Defense Technology Guideline 2023. The document lays out a vision for how the department can “defend [Japan] at all times with technologies. It also lists 12 technology / capability priority areas for increased research and development as listed below (the list is taken directly from the English translation):

  1. Automation and autonomy to prevent the damages and the workload of warfighters and civilians
  2. Utilization of unused platforms (such as deep water)
  3. Utilization of unused energy (such as waste-to-energy)
  4. New functional materials and manufacturing method
  5. Faster and more accurate sensing
  6. Advanced computing that instantly processes vast amounts of information
  7. Visualization of invisible things
  8. Capabilities that make virtual / imaginary information as real things
  9. Forecasting our future to enhance recognition capability beforehand
  10. Network that enables to connect anywhere, anytime, anyone as we like
  11. More effective and efficient cyber defense capabilities
  12. Reinforcement of warfighter’s cognitive capability

Other reporting from Japanese sources on the document specifically reference MoD prioritization of brain-machine interfaces (BMI), which directly link humans and machines in order to speed up transfer of information and even allow one individual to be able to control a very large number of uncrewed systems.

Beyond the articulation of technology and capability priority areas, the English translation of the document also articulates two approaches or pillars to the process of applying emerging technologies to the defense of Japan,reflecting the need to recognize incremental gains in capabilities and new efficiencies in the short term while investing in more profound advances in technology-enabled capability over time.

The first pillar is “accelerating the delivery of functions and equipment” and is expected to be carried out over the next five – ten years.

The second pillar is “Ensuring technological superiority and creating advanced capabilities” and is expected to be achieved “over the next 10 years and further ahead.”

Both pillars—and indeed the whole document—stress the need to reform the research and development, acquisition, and innovation processes as well as all aspects of innovation and adoption of science and technology. Key components of this acceleration include sharing of information and priorities across government and with industry, improving human resources and test facilities and equipment, and promoting the participation of various industries and start-ups in the defense R&D process.

The MoD also sees its role in driving investment in niche technology and basic research areas unlikely to gain sufficient investment through the private sector through its Innovative Science and Technology Initiative for Security (ISTIS) program and in connecting with other elements of the government engaged in key technology development for non-military purposes.

The document offers an interesting perspective from a Japanese defense establishment that is setting aside much of the thinking that has dominated foreign, security, and defense policy since World War II due to growing concern over China’s territorial claims and ambitions with regards to the Senkaku Islands and Taiwan. The release of both the National Security Strategy and National Defense Strategy in late 2022 were considered strong indications of Japan’s changing approach and anxiousness over its worsening security situation and threat environment. Indeed, the document stresses the need for MoD and the defence ecosystem to “[break] away from conventional thinking” when it comes to both the types of technology-enabled capabilities required to defend Japanese sovereignty as well as in the way in which these technologies are developed and deployed.


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