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Over the backdrop of the changing security environment and new threats, Japan’s Ministry of Defense is rethinking the country’s research-and-development priorities. Three new areas of concern – space, cyberspace and the electromagnetic realm – have caused a shift from the previous focus on simply sea, air and land. 

More powerful regional rivals such as China are introducing technology for these kinds of cross-domain operations and Japan must keep pace, said Hirokazu Hokazono, deputy commissioner and chief defense scientist, MoD’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA), 

Japan Self-Defense Force will have to transform itself into a “multi-domain defense force,” and strengthen the ability for the Japan-U.S. alliance to deter and counter threats, he added, according to To do that, its military R&D must shift focus from platform-centric to a “capability oriented” approach.

The top six R&D priorities for where the ministry must invest are: 

Cyber – the focus will be on boosting cyber resilience; high-fidelity cyber training and simulation; vulnerability and cyber attack detection; and anti-tampering resistant software, he said.

Underwater technologies – the ministry is looking to boost the endurance of unmanned underwater and surface vessels and to give them non-GPS alternatives for precision navigation and timing, better underwater communications and manned-unmanned teaming.

With this regard, Hokazono mentioned “long-endurance multi-purpose platforms such as UUVs and USVs cooperating in a group manner by using an underwater network.”

Electromagnetic spectrum – to achieve superiority, R&D investments will focus on solid-state lasers for communications; the use of meta-material to reflect radio frequencies; infrared suppression and directed energy weapons, he said.

Hypersonics technology – Japan must develop an air-launched scramjet engine, boost its guidance systems and thermal protections.

Persistent wide-area intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance – as a nation of some 7,000 islands, both big and small, space and maritime situational awareness are priorities for Japan, and the ability to share information will be increasingly important and must be improved, he said. 

With this regard, technology priorities include: over-the-horizon radars; advanced multi-static radars; signals fusion and high-resolution automatic identification system tracking. AIS is the transponders placed on large boats for tracking.

Network operations – Japan needs high-throughput wireless communications with lower latency and high security. 5G will be a key enabler, as well as securing communications through quantum cryptography.