Summary(TORU YAMANAKA/AFP/Getty Images)Japanese helicopter carrier Huga in Yokohama in March 2009.Japan is participating in Dawn Blitz 2013, a military exercise hosted by the United States, and in doing so it is showing its suspicions of China, which Tokyo fears could secure territory with a surprise military presence. Dawn Blitz commenced its live phase June 11, and it will conclude June 28. The focus of the exercise is to practice an amphibious landing and simulate a retaking of San Clemente Island off the Californian coast. This exercise will involve more than 5,000 personnel from the United States, Canada, New Zealand and most notably, Japan. The move corresponds with Japan's ongoing remilitarization and provides the Japan Self-Defense Force the opportunity to learn the skills needed to deter aggressive action within the context of their ongoing island disputes.AnalysisJapan's attempts to participate in more military exercises with the United States come as part of its broader military normalization. Recent political developments have given this process a boost. Japan's long-time ruling party, the Liberal Democratic Party, resumed control of the government in December of 2012 after three years of opposition control. The previous Liberal Democratic Party government was practically paralyzed politically, and in frustration the Japanese public voted the Democratic Party of Japan into office, but it too struggled to revive the entrenched bureaucracy. Upon the Liberal Democratic Party's return to office, it has been able to mobilize Japanese government institutions and pursue several more aggressive military and defense initiatives.The most dramatic of initiatives is a proposal to repeal or amend Article 9 of the Japanese constitution. This pacifist article relegates Japan to having a purely defensive military, and while the Japan Self-Defense Force has grown considerably over the last two decades, it has done so within the political constraints of Article 9. As the force grew, the government eschewed overtly offensive power-projecting weapons platforms such as intercontinental ballistic missiles or nuclear submarines. While the Liberal Democrats have broached the topic of constitutional reform, they have also met with a public more eager to pursue economic reforms than contentious constitutional issues. Elections for the upper house of parliament in July may further embolden the ruling party. But even without constitutional revision, Tokyo has found ways to advance the security and defense initiatives it deems vital.
Other Defense InitiativesThe Liberal Democratic Party has started considering other defense initiatives in the interim. One policy advocates the use of pre-emptive strikes targeting imminent threats, such as North Korean ballistic missiles if Pyongyang were on the verge of launching them toward Japan. Another initiative would involve joint patrols with U.S. Naval battle groups operating in the region. Whereas the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force has operated with the U.S. Navy for years, it has never fully integrated into an operating battle group (specifically carrier task forces) as standard operating procedure. The United States has long urged Japan to take a greater role in regional security, but it is intensified regional disputes with China that has given Japan the impetus to do so.In some ways, Dawn Blitz 2013 will be a first for the Japan Self-Defense Force. First, V-22 Ospreys will be landed on the deck of one of Japan's helicopter carriers. This will not only enhance direct interoperability with the U.S. military, it will also further familiarize Japanese forces to equipment and techniques that would be useful in staging a contested landing. Japan is looking into purchasing its own V-22 tilt-rotor aircraft, and along with its attempt to increase its amphibious capabilities, it is moving toward creating the general capability to reclaim an island seized by a potential enemy. The United States and Japan canceled previous attempts at island-recapture drills farther west -- they did not want to provoke China excessively -- but their drill in California shows their interest in conducting such training.Second, this marks the first time that all the branches of the Japan Self-Defense Force have worked together. This is a critical skill set in a maritime environment, especially for amphibious landings. In fact it shows how constrained these forces have been in their past operations and how much further they have to go in order to match the level of other elite militaries. It will take years to completely build up the institutional knowledge necessary to competently execute these complicated operations, but in the meantime the Liberal Democratic Party is pushing the Japan Self-Defense Force toward becoming a conventional and very capable national military force.