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Japan Air Self Defence Force
Nihon Koku Jieitai

The JASDF is tasked with the air defense of Japan and support of the land and naval forces as required. Japan has a long configuration from the north to the south with its population and industrial centers concentrated in particular regions. In addition, as the Japanese government maintains an exclusively defense-oriented policy, Japan is forced to take a passive position at the early stage of the air incursions in which invaders take the initiative.

In order to defend the life and the property of the Japanese people from invading aircraft and missiles under Japan's geographical characteristics and defense-oriented policy, the Air Self-Defense Force should detect invading aircrafts and missiles as soon as possible and destroy them as far from Japan as possible. So the ASDF should have capability for vigilance and surveillance and for a quick counterattack to fight against invading aircraft and missiles.

The appropriate size and scope for the self defense force is a highly controversial question. The government noted in 2006, “Self defense capability that Japan is permitted to possess under the Constitution is limited to the minimum necessary level” and the possession of “offensive weapons” such as long-range strategic bombers or attack aircraft carriers is prohibited. As an example of the extremes the government has gone to in enforcing these restrictions, when the JASDF introduced the F-4E fighter based on the perceived threat from nearby countries, the bombing and air-refueling capabilities were removed at extra cost.

The Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) is the major aviation arm of the SDF. It had an authorized strength of 47,000 and maintained some 46,000 personnel and approximately 330 combat aircraft in 1992. Front-line formations included three ground-attack squadrons, nine fighter squadrons, one reconnaissance squadron, and five transport squadrons. By 2014 it had some 47,000 personnel and approximately 550 combat aircraft. Front-line formations included twelve fighter squadrons, one reconnaissance squadron, two electronic warfare squadrons, two airborne early warning squadrons, one tanker squadron and four transport squadrons.

The ASDF must possess aircraft control and warning units that consist of a network of radar sites and airborne early warning capable of vigilance and surveillance throughout the air space in and around Japan on a continuous basis, fighter units and ground-to-air missile units to take immediate and appropriate steps against violations of Japan's territorial airspace and air incursions, units capable of engaging in the interdiction of airborne or amphibious landing invasions and air-support for land forces as necessary, and units capable of effective operational supports including air reconnaissance, air transportation and other operations as necessary.

The ASDF maintains an integrated network of radar installations and air defense direction centers throughout the country known as the Basic Air Defense Ground Environment. In the late 1980s, the system was modernized and augmented with E-2C airborne early-warning aircraft.

The nation relies on fighter-interceptor aircraft and surface-to -air missiles to intercept hostile aircraft. Both of these systems were improved beginning in the late 1980s. Outmoded aircraft were being replaced in the early 1990s with more sophisticated models, and Nike-J missiles were being replaced with new Patriot systems. Essentially, however, the nation relied on United States forces to provide interceptor capability.

The ASDF also provides air support for ground and sea operations of the GSDF and the MSDF and air defense for bases of all the forces. Although support fighter squadrons started being modernized in 1989, they lacked precision-guided weapons for support of ground operations and attacks on hostile ships, and ASDF pilots received little flight training over oceans to prepare for maritime operations.

The ASDF had an inadequate airbase defense capability, consisting mainly of outmoded antiaircraft guns and portable shelters to house aircraft. Base defenses were being upgraded in the late 1980s with new surface-to-air missiles, modern antiaircraft artillery, and new fixed and mobile aircraft shelters.

The JASDF derives its operational art and tactical doctrine from the US Air Force, although increasingly frequently local modifications have been made to fit the Japanese air defense scenario. There is close co-operation with the US Air Force and air components of the US Marine Corps and US Navy.

After passing an entrance examination, recruits can enter several training programs. Lower-secondary school graduates are eligible to enter the MSDF's four-year youth cadet program to earn upper-secondary school equivalency and NCO status, or they can undergo twelve-week recruit training courses followed by technical training lasting from five to fifty weeks. Upper-secondary school graduates can also enter either two-year NCO or four-year flight courses.

Specialized training is available for all NCOs, as are opportunities to enroll in officer and flight officer candidate courses. Graduates of the four-year National Defense Academy or four-year universities receive thirty to forty weeks of instruction in officer candidate schools. Advanced technical, flight, and command staff officer programs are available for officers. Flight training is carried out in Japan but a large number of officers are selected for training in the US.

Since the end of the Cold War, the JASDF saw a changing pattern in its air defense operations. The demise of the Soviet and Chinese threats was most marked in the Western Air Defense Force region, where the scramble numbers dropped from 94 in 1992 to 40 in 1996.

In the Central Air Defense Force region, the number of scrambles dropped from 63 in 1992 to 25 in 1996 and even in the Northern Air Defense Force region, where Russian air operations take place closest to Japan, there were reductions. The 1992 figure was 126 scrambles, rising through 199 in 1993 to a post-Cold War peak of 200 scrambles in 1994, but then reducing to just 60 in 1995 before making a small upswing to 104 in 1996.

On Okinawa, the South-Western Composite Air Division saw a less marked change in the region, except in 1994, when there were only 18 scrambles throughout the whole year. By 1996 the total had risen again to 65, reflecting the increased Chinese maritime air activity in the area.

Generally, the JASDF is a potent and well-balanced force to which a considerable amount of funding is allocated. The most serious weakness is the lack of coordinated air activity with other countries.

Japan sent three Self-Defense Forces aircraft to Islamabad in neighboring Pakistan to evacuate its nationals and local staff, only to fail to do so. The planes landed at Kabul Airport twice on 26 August 2021, but failed to airlift people who wished to flee the country as they were unable to reach the airport. Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said in a meeting with ruling Liberal Democratic Party members that the goal was to complete the evacuation by 27 August, citing that the mission would be difficult after August 31, when the U.S. withdraws its troops.

Japan's government recalled the Self-Defense Forces aircraft that had been sent to help airlift evacuees from Afghanistan. The government had kept the aircraft on standby in neighboring Pakistan, when a Japanese national and 14 Afghans were airlifted to the Pakistani capital of Islamabad. Officials said they are aware of more than 500 people still stranded in Afghanistan, including Afghans working for the Japanese Embassy and other organizations.

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Page last modified: 06-09-2021 15:33:44 ZULU