Sunday, December 29, 2013

Will Japan Get Its F-22 Raptors? Will It Need Them?

Recently, the Japanese cabinet, in announcing plans to purchase 28 additional U.S. F-35 fighters (in addition to 42 already contracted), affirmed a policy of maintaining Japanese air superiority over the PRC. 

The F-35 may indeed contribute to Japanese air superiority in unexpected and, to the United States, undesirable ways.

I found it interesting that the Abe administration has gone all-in on the F-35, a U.S. “jack of all trades and master of none” fifth generation (stealth) multi-purpose warplane that gets no love from the zoom-and-boom crowd, and has apparently reconciled itself to not buying any F-22 Raptors.

The F-35’s development history (and cost and schedule overrun statistics) makes for sobering reading.  The US fleet of 2400 planes will cost $400 billion to develop and build—and another $1.1 trillion to operate over its projected 50 year life.  It remains to be seen if the plane is remembered as a monument of sustained US pre-eminence--or a Great Wall of China-style tombstone for an empire-ending megaboondoggle.

The Raptor, despite its own mind-boggling cost (given the vagaries of military accounting and the small number of planes produced to amortize the program’s fixed costs, all one can say is “north of $300 million per copy"), its horrendous flight availability stats, and some nagging and deadly issues relating to its oxygen system, is still the only genuine, flying 5th generation stealth air superiority fighter, albeit untested in combat.  As such, it figures prominently in the manhood-measuring contests contemplated by various governments that face potentially hostile and relatively well-equipped air antagonists at their borders.

Israel has lusted after the F-22 Raptor; so has Japan.  And the U.S. Department of Defense brass  has yearned to sell the Raptor, in order to further defray its costs and make the plane more affordable for the U.S. military.  

However, the Obey Amendment, named after a Wisconsin congressman, which forbids export of the Raptor in order to keep its superior technology out of hostile hands, has become a perennial in the Defense Appropriations bill.  The civilian defense leadership under DoD Secretary Gates discouraged talk of repealing the Obey Amendment to provide an export tailwind to the program, and consigned the Raptor to niche status in 2009 by capping its build at 187 units. 

One of the reasons that Gates asked for the resignation of Air Force Secretary Mike Wynne in 2008 was that Wynne didn’t back off on his insistence that 381 Raptors were needed.  And apparently somebody was egging on the Japanese with assurances that the manufacturing procedures for the plane had been exhaustively documented and the tooling and technology carefully preserved, so that the production line could be restarted for a qualified buyer like Japan for the bargain price of somewhere between $500 million and $1 billion dollars.

But with the Raptor option foreclosed, Japan opted for 42 F-35s in 2011.

The U.S. Raptor policy, as far as I can tell, has never been authoritatively explained.

The most likely reason is that Secretary Gates wanted the US services and foreign buyers to put their oars in the water on behalf of the F-35 and not cling to hope that they would finally get Raptors instead.

The official reason for the export ban is that the US is loath to engage in coproduction with sophisticated potential buyers and thereby risk the leakage of the precious technology to “competitors” like China.

This might be a genuine concern with respect to Israel, which has shown a dismaying tendency to pass on US technology to PRC in the course of its arms sales, but it would seem that Japan would be an unlikely practitioner of such monkey business.  In fact, Japan might be better at protecting sensitive military technology from the PRC than the United States.

Perhaps the reason for the export ban is the United States wants to maintain a monopoly on the ultimate air superiority fighter.  The Raptor gives the U.S. a trump card in East Asia; 12 Raptors rotate in and out of Kadena on Okinawa, giving the US a persuasive security role while denying the need for Japan to operate its own squadron.

However, the Fifth Generation Fighter monopoly shows signs of eroding, as China fields two stealth aircraft, including the J-20 stealth fighter, and India proceeds with its pricy joint development agreement with Russia for the Sukhoi T-50.

Japan, as one might expect, has its doubts about matching these sexy air-to-air fighters with the F-35, by comparison the Canyonero of 5th generation warbirds.  And, as one might also expect, it has not taken the Raptor export ban laying down.

Japan has its own 5th generation fighter program en ovo, the ATD-X, which has been prototyped by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.  If the Japanese government pulls the trigger for development and serial production, the plane will be called the F-3.

One possible reason to deny the Raptor to Japan is that technology leakage would indeed occur, but toward Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Ishikawa Heavy Industries and Mitsubishi Electronics instead of China.    

But Japan can probably get the advanced technology it wants through the F-35 program anyway.   

An interesting discussion by an JSDF reservist studying in Australia made the case in 2012:
For Japan, the F-35 delivers more than a fighter capable of facing off head-to-head with the latest Chinese and Russian-made adversaries. It also provides access to stealth and other next-generation (NGEN) capabilities that Japan’s defense contractors need to advance development of their own NGEN fighter.
There is little doubt that buying the F-35 will help close the gap between Japan’s R&D program and established NGEN fighter programs abroad. With time, Japan’s skilled workforce and manufacturing capabilities probably are sufficient to overcome the rest.
Actually, make that “no doubt”.  Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which has airframe responsibilities for the ATD-X, IHI, and Mitsubishi Electric have been tasked by the Japanese government to locally source 10% of the components in Japan’s F-35 :
The very likely inclusion of MHI in the project raises the possibility that the F-35s that Japan will purchase may cost 2 times more than an off-the-shelf unit will. Clearly, considerations relating to the development of Japan’s own military industrial base are driving the policy decisions in this particular case, more than perhaps any appreciated need for a large number of F-35As themselves.

Technological insights gained  from the manufacture of components related to low-observability will go into Mitsubishi Heavy Industry’s ongoing ATD-X  ”F-3″ development (the technology demonstrator scheduled to be tested in 2014), which raises the possibility for an indigenous Japanese fighter to be deployed in the late 2020s to replace the Mitsubishi F-2s and F-15Js. Not only is MHI also in the process of constructing its own technology demonstrator, but IHI reportedly has its own plans to develop a technology-demonstrator engine capable of generating 15 metric tons of thrust – two of which could easily power an airframe worthy of replacing the F-15Js. The linkage between these plans, and the F-35 manufacture, is quite clear. It would also seem to fit broadly within the plans of the MOD, and Japanese defense industry, identified by Bradley Perret at Aviation Week, to lay the groundwork for the acquisition of technologies from domestic and international sources that would be necessary for an indigenous Japanese fighter to be assembled, if necessary.

Perhaps as likely (if not more likely), these technologies, plus the industrial “threat” of Japan developing its own indigenous fighter, could be used as leverage/justification for gaining a greater participating share in any future cross-national development/manufacturing project. Japan’s F-XX fighter procurement will in a few years start to garner greater attention…
I like the quotes around “threat”. 

It's interesting to consider if current US strategy considers the "informal" Japanese acquisition of US stealth technology a desirable state of affairs.

 So, if the F-35 Japan program goes ahead—and there is apparently no serious question that it will—and the US does not rethink its Raptor export ban, expect Japan to be ready to enter the 5th generation fighter game with the F-3.

The other interesting consequence of the stealth fighter game calls into question the reassuring idea that Japan will use its mastery of 5th generation technology simply as a bargaining chip in future negotiations with the US.

In the high end segment of the defense game, economics apparently dictate exports, so that the gigantic costs can be spread over a reasonable number of units, as the United States is trying to do with the F-35 by laying off a few billion dollars in development costs to allies who will presumably have no choice but to double down and purchase a few hundred of the planes.

Japan will face the similar conditions.  In order to be a credible player, exports will be central to any indigenous fighter program, as the Japanese analyst remarked:
The reality is that producing competitive NGEN fighters probably requires far more funding than Japanese policymakers forecast.

As a result, Japan will need to mirror the approaches used by other NGEN producers, including offsetting development costs with foreign exports. This is the only realistic business model which proves politically and economically viable for building a true NGEN fighter. Since Japan’s current laws prohibit the export of such a fighter, Tokyo therefore needs to relax or rewrite its export control restrictions. Japan’s recent moves in this direction increase the likelihood that the domestic legal barriers to exports will eventually disappear.
And that in turn means that restrictions limiting co-development will probably be honored “in the breach” more and more; indeed, the economic demands of Japanese defense “reconstruction” will probably dictate that the limits on plain-vanilla arms sales be jettisoned as well.

As Jon Day wrote for Xinhua on Dec. 11, 2013:
At the defense and security meeting, the government also traversed the thorny issue of lifting its long-standing weapons export ban, with Shinichi Kitaoka, head of the government panel launched by Abe, stating that the ban should be lifted.

Kitaoka is a former Japanese ambassador to the United Nations and has, of late, served as a key adviser to Abe and is a proponent of reinterpreting Japan's war-renouncing, pacifist Constitution to lift the self-imposed ban on the right to exercise collective self-defense, and as the deputy chairman of Abe's Advisory Panel on Reconstruction of the Legal Basis for Security, also wishes to see the embargo on weapons exports lifted.
Believe it or not, the export limitations are already dead as a doornail for F-35 components; Prime Minister Abe is already pitching Japanese sourcing for F-35 parts to NATO.

As Asahi reported in March, here is the requisite loophole:
The Abe administration never doubted that the parts for the F-35 would be excluded from the weapons export ban. In compiling the new statement explaining the exception, the administration came up with a new basic concept of "complying with the United Nations Charter."

The export of Japanese-made parts will be allowed only to those nations that abide by the objectives and principles of the U.N. Charter.
If the international environment is favorable--i.e. places like Indonesia and Malaysia are interested in a Japanese fighter with no strings attached (and amazingly, Taiwan is also bruited about as a market for an indigenous Japanese fighter), the Japanese government might decide to go whole hog on the program. 

So US military planners are presented with an interesting dilemma.

The United States has no defensible reason to deny Japan co-production on the F-35.  

Which means that in a few years the US will probably be faced with a situation in which Japan 1) has developed a viable alternative to the Raptor and 2) has established itself as an unrestricted exporter of military goods and 3) has a vested economic and strategic interest in exporting the plane in competition with the United States, and at the expense of reduced US military and strategic predominance…

…unless the US reverses policy and decides to sell Japan the Raptor…

…and Japan still wants it.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Techie Code of Omerta For Colluding With NSA

With RSA, a big and respected name (actually initials) in cryptography, currently getting flayed in the public press for taking $10 million from the NSA and, in return, embedding a dodgy, NSA-compromised random number generator a.k.a. DUAL EC EBRG in its products (RNGs help generate encryption keys; a compromised RNG yields a limited, more crackable set of keys), a few observations:

First, as is probably recalled, the compromised character of the NSA RNG was revealed in a previous tranche of the Snowden documents in September, and an embarrassed RSA quickly issued a recommendation that users cease using that particular RNG.

Second, even back in October, there were rumblings about possible financial considerations playing a part in RSA's willingness to include the RNG in its products.  Here's a snip from a piece I wrote at the time:

[On a recent episode of Science Friday] Ira Flatow asked Philip Zimmerman [creator of the PGP open-key e-mail encryption system] why RSA would have done such a thing. There was a long, awkward silence and some awkward laughter before Zimmerman slid into the passive voice/third person zone:
ZIMMERMAN: And yet RSA did a security - did use it as their default random number generator. And they do have competent cryptographers working there. So.

FLATOW: How do you explain that?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, I'm not going to - I think I'd rather not be the one to say.


FLATOW: But if someone else were to say it, what would they say?

ZIMMERMAN: Well, someone else might say that maybe they were incentivized. 
Maybe Mr. Zimmerman had an advance peek at the relevant Snowden documents.  I think it more likely that he had already heard some tittle-tattle in his high tech circles but was not interested in calling down a corporate and legal sh*train upon himself by openly accusing the RSA of taking government money (interesting legal question: is it slanderous to allege that a US corporation engaged in a legal transaction with the US government?).

Third, Blame the Suits!  Per the Reuters expose:

No alarms were raised, former employees said, because the deal was handled by business leaders rather than pure technologists.

"The labs group had played a very intricate role at BSafe [the product line that was compromised by the RNG], and they were basically gone," said labs veteran Michael Wenocur, who left in 1999.

Actually, outside security analyst Bruce Schneier and others had raised serious concerns about DUAL EC EBRG in 2007 in a public forum and, as Zimmerman pointed out, RSA had competent cryptographers in the building.  DUAL EC EBRG was provided as only one option, albeit the default, and security-savvy users would be able to select another, better RNG.  And RSA cryptographers could further console themselves with the awareness that, even if Clueless Enduser kept DUAL EC EBRG as a default, probably the only entity with the message collection and analysis capability to exploit it effectively was America's own NSA.

In other words, it wasn't just RSA Chief Executive and Designated Villain Art Coviello sneaking down into the lab and inserting the lethal code while the techies obliviously shipped the compromised product.

Fourth, I think there is a growing awareness that a significant element of the Snowden story is the collusion between Big Tech and the NSA, fueled by the awareness that both sides want the same thing: a thoroughly backdoored Internet open to individual data profiling and surveillance penetration (and tolerate the resultant security breaches as cost of doing business/collateral damage).

I wonder if the story will get any more traction, since there are sizable vested economic, political, and ideological interests extending all the way to the Oval Office that are engaged in perpetuating the image of a benign, democratic/populist information order dedicated to information security.  The constituency interested in seeing Google and the other tech giants share the blame for ruining the Internet--and in the process evaporating a few hundred billion dollars of personal wealth, market cap, and stock options--is, on the other hand, powerless and vanishingly small.

Inside the tech industry, the attitude seems to be one of damage control i.e. media initiatives to convince the public that the Internet companies care about YOU and hate helping out that nasty old government.   As to the question of whether a corporate Snowden will emerge, the attitude seems to be, as Phil Zimmerman--a genuine and battered hero of the encryption wars in the 1990s--put it: "I think I'd rather not be the one to say."  Maybe the code of omerta lives on in the tech industry.

Fifth, I find it amusing and somewhat irritating that, ever since I wrote about RSA in October, I am bombarded with RSA pop-up ads on my own blog and across the web.  It's the Internet equivalent of a golden retriever that pursues me down the street driven by the irresistible urge to sniff the seat of my trousers.  Make it stop!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Yasukuni Blues: Understanding Shinzo Abe’s Historical Revisionism

Myth: Shinzo Abe is a leading member of the team of world and Asian democracies standing up to China in the name of universal values like “freedom of navigation” and to help ensure the shared peace and prosperity of Asia.

Reality:  Shinzo Abe is a revisionist nationalist using friction with China to pursue Japanese national interests, put Japan on the right side of a zero-sum economic equation opposite the PRC, maximize Japan’s independence of action as a regional hegemon, hopefully peacefully, but if not...

Mission for the Western media:  Manage the cognitive dissonance between comforting myth and disturbing reality for the sake of its faithful readers.

Challenge:  Explain away Prime Minister Abe’s Boxing Day visit to the Yasukuni Shrine.

First of all, please note that Yasukuni is not Japan’s Arlington Cemetery.  The role of national repository of Japan’s war dead is filled by the Chidorigafuchi National Cemetery.

Yasukuni is a right wing revisionist theme park that provides sinecures for politicians of Abe’s LDP party on its board.  It's too creepily ultranationalist even for the Japanese emperor himself to visit.

Jeffrey Kingston of Temple University’s Japan Center provided a nice takedown of the Yasukuni myth back in August 2013 for Bloomberg:

Yasukuni is ground zero for an unrepentant view of Japan’s wartime aggression. During World War II, the shrine served as the “command headquarters” of State Shinto, a religion that deified the emperor and mobilized Japanese subjects to fight a holy war at his behest. The private foundation that runs Yasukuni only added the 14 most controversial “souls” [Class A war criminals—ed.] -- surreptitiously -- in 1978. 

The shrine’s political mission is on blatant display at the adjacent Yushukan museum, run by the same foundation. There, the Class A war criminals are portrayed as martyrs. Japan’s war in China is supposed to have suppressed banditry and terrorism, while its invasion of the rest of Asia is represented as a war of liberation from Western colonialism…
It is telling that Emperor Showa (Hirohito), once the head priest of State Shinto, confided to an aide that he stopped visiting Yasukuni after 1978 precisely because the shrine had been tainted by the presence of the Class A war criminals. This explicit politicization of the site also explains why his son, current Emperor Akihito, has maintained the imperial household’s embargo on visits.

Abe’s historical revisionism about World War II, as represented by his Yasukuni visit, is not a generous if misguided exercise in greatest generation nostalgia meant to soothe toothless, aging nationalists with a last glimpse of imperial twilight.  Historical revisionism has an unmistakable contemporary resonance and drives a current political agenda.  For instance, it underpins Abe’s burgeoning security relationships with India and Myanmar, both of whom were unhappy British subjects not at all immune to the decolonization blandishments of Imperial Japan in the 1940s. 

The only foreigner commemorated at Yasukuni (with a stele) is Radha Binod Pal, an Indian jurist and decolonization enthusiast, whose suppressed dissent to the Tokyo war crimes tribunal verdict has become a sacred text for Japanese historical revisionists, and was approvingly cited by Manmohan Singh in his high-profile anti-Chinese bromance with Shinzo Abe.  I refer interested readers to my article in Japan Focus, which covers Abe’s celebration of Pal and the anti-colonial (as well as anti-Chinese) foundation of current Indo-Japanese relations in convincing detail.  

As for Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi’s father and national hero Aung San did a lot more than flirt with the role of collaborator with the Japanese occupation of Burma.  He was in charge of anti-British guerilla ops on behalf of the Japanese government, served as War Minister in the occupation cabinet, and was personally awarded the Order of the Rising Sun by Emperor Hirohito before he came to his liberal democratic senses (or realized that Japanese rule was headed for collapse) and became leader of the resistance.  

The Japanese presence in Burma is remembered nostalgically by a lot of Japanese and apparently more than a few Burmese locals and sustained a flood of Japanese veteran tourism and government and private aid projects since the 1950s.  Japan cultivated a special relationship with Myanmar even during the worst junta years, and Abe has taken advantage of Myanmar’s opening to the West to jump in diplomatically and commercially and work to displace Chinese influence.

And of course Abe himself came from a long line of conservative politicians, most notoriously on his wife’s side Nobusuke Kishi, who played a key role in the occupation of Manchuko, served in the Tojo cabinet during World War II, and was detained as a candidate for Class A War Criminal status until his release in 1948.

The most awkward and significant reality of Shinzo Abe’s Yasukuni visit is that the villain at the heart of Japanese historical revisionism is not China; it is the United States.  

The core of Abe’s historical revisionism is not just that the bandit-infested territories of China and Korea demanded Japanese tutelage in the 1930s and 1940s, but also that the Japanese Empire was leading the fight of the oppressed peoples of Asia against British colonialism and American imperialism—in other words, the real war crime of World War II was U.S. aggression against Japan.
The United States, and its pretensions to moral superiority over Japan, as well as China and Korea’s presumptuous claims to virtuous victimhood, were a target of Abe’s Yasukuni visit.

As I have pointed out before, the Chinese state media frequently emphasizes the shared PRC-US interest of maintaining the official World War II narrative of “evil Japan”, not only for the transitory Chinese pleasure of guilt-tripping Tokyo, but because the US self-assigned role of Asian lawgiver and restraint on Japanese militarism is one of the main justifications for “pivoting” into Asia instead of just giving Japan enough guns, bombs, and backing to manage the China containment show on its own.

Remember, Premier Wen Jiabao used his last official trip to Europe to go to Potsdam, of all places, to celebrate the Potsdam Declaration, the 1945 call by the US, Britain, and China for Japan’s unconditional surrender and specifying occupation until Japan had a “peacefully inclined” government.

This context provides considerable heartburn for purveyors of the “Abe as unwilling warrior” myth that presents Japan’s newly aggressive foreign policy as a reaction to the “China threat” to national security, and for that matter, the rather ridiculous assertion that Abe is a regretful victim being pushed into visiting Yasukuni in order to appease his fireeating right wing base.  Abe pretty much is the base.  

On the other hand, it provides considerable support for an understanding of the Abe reality:  that Shinzo Abe is deliberately and carefully stirring the China pot in order to exacerbate and highlight the polarization between China and Japan to justify his ongoing reconfiguration of Japan’s regional role into independent local hegemon at the expense of U.S. prestige and power in Asia.

Abe manufactured a crisis out of the Chinese declaration of its Air Defense Identification Zone; now he exploits and prolongs the furor by sticking a finger in China’s eye with the Yasukuni visit.  In other words, instead of trending toward stability (and making things easier for the United States), Abe is escalating, enhancing instability (and making things more difficult for the US).  Strange behavior for an ally.  Understandable actions for a regional actor impatient to assert its independence vis a vis the US.

Abe is a man in a hurry.  He realizes that the an intersection of LDP hubris-driven corruption and incompetence and an an eventual resurgence of Japan’s other political parties lies somewhere in his future.  He is determined to re-establish Japan as a full-fledged regional power before he leaves office.  Instability and tensions with China work toward this end, and that’s why he does things like visit Yasukuni.

This state of affairs is perfectly understood by the PRC government, and Chinese state media has been harping on Abe’s incremental security reforms and his efforts to develop a regional network of Japan-centric alliances, even before he takes the momentous step of revising the pacifist constitution and enabling formal “collective security” treaties that would permit a Japanese military response if an ally, and not Japan itself, were threatened.

It is also, I think, well understood by the U.S. government, which has been performing an increasingly difficult balancing act as Japan sails off on its own independent regional security policy.  For the sake of its own “pivot” agenda, which is built on the idea of China containment, the United States has denied itself the “honest broker” role in a balance of power network and is instead trying to herd cats (and a Japanese panther) to maintain an anti-China picket line.  

As the Japanese government understands (and, I would hope, U.S. diplomats now sincerely regret), the pivot doctrine has fatally circumscribed US ability to push back on Japan (unless Japan does something absolutely crazy illegal and aggressive, which is not Mr. Abe’s MO).  Prime Minister Abe knows he can go to Yasukuni and elicit nothing more than anxious squealing from the U.S. State Department.

Western corporate media outlets, I believe, haven’t gotten the memo since they have totally tongue-kissed, climbed into bed, and had blissful liberal democratic sex with the valorized dream of the world’s democracies led by the United States working hand in glove with Japan to stand up to the PRC’s authoritarian regime.  The realization that the new Japanese policy is based on the idea that the Pacific War was a gigantic regional war crime by the United States instead of the first triumph of American democracy over Asian authoritarianism (and the successful template for a certain current US effort against another alien, pushy Asian power whose initials are “PRC”) simply doesn’t seem to sink in.

The result is utterly gormless reporting (sorry, Reuters) along the lines of :

Paying respects at the shrine is part of Abe's conservative agenda to restore Japan's pride in its past and recast its wartime history with a less apologetic tone. He also wants to ease the restraints of Japan's post-World War Two pacifist constitution on the military.
Some political experts said Abe had probably calculated that his relatively high voter ratings, based largely on hopes for plans to revive the economy, could withstand any criticism over his Yasukuni pilgrimage, which would also shore up support in his conservative base.

He may also have felt that with ties with Beijing and Seoul in a deep freeze, a visit would hardly make things worse.

Given the conflicted (and self-inflicted) nature of US pivot policy, I expect the big media reporting to continue to hew to the more-sorrow-than-in-anger angle that “For some mysterious reason Abe is going out of his way to irritate PRC jerks and why is he antagonizing South Korea at the same time even though South Korea is a democracy too and since Japan is a democracy they should be buddies oh never mind”, while continuing to ignore the most important reality: that events in Asia are increasingly slipping away from the grasp of the United States and into the hands of Japan—into the hands of Shinzo Abe, who is fundamentally suspicious of U.S. pretensions to leadership and perhaps even questions US regional legitimacy as anything more than a fading power still trying to trade on its legacy of Japanese conquest more than half a century ago.

Thanks, “pivot to Asia”.