Untapped Potential between India and Japan in the Indo-Pacific: Pursuing International Military Education

  • Published
  • By Vindu Mai Chotani & Dr. Shutaro Sano


The geopolitical and strategic space created by the India and Japan Special Global and Strategic Partnership has put both states in a position to focus on deepening the connective tissue in their bilateral partnership. In the Indo-Pacific region, some of these primary issues have been connectivity and infrastructure projects, security and defense relations, and trade ties.

However, a study of regional trends demonstrates that the region is also faced with increasing incidences of instability and unpredictability. The most recent examples being the US-China trade war and the COVID-19 pandemic. In analyzing this rising uncertainty, there is a growing need to explore the underlying, secondary, and/or more untapped potential of the Indo-Japan bilateral partnership.

One crucial area emphasized is the need to pursue a more profound international military education program, with a focus on cadet-level trainings and exchanges. This article argues that there is a need for dialogue on this issue and also a need for the implementation of potential collaborative exchanges, programs/courses, scholarships, and conferences between Indian and Japanese cadets. The idea behind these policy recommendations is that in the short- and long-term, such endeavors would essentially give more heft and consistency and deepen trust in this bilateral relationship, especially in the realms of defense and security.

Importance of Cadet-Level International Military Education Exchanges

International military education exchanges, if pursued at the cadet level, could have a number of short- and long-term benefits. Firstly, while it is important to acknowledge the importance of maintaining defense exchanges at senior levels, initiating defense exchanges at a younger stage can be foundational as this when the cadets – the future top-level officers – cultivate their personalities, qualities, and beliefs with regard to the outside world. Thus, while friendship or comradeship can also be fostered at a later stage in life or when senior officials conduct exchanges, cultivating enduring or meaningful friendships is much more complicated and difficult. Primarily because officials at this stage in their lives and careers have multiple “calculations” based upon their professional and social positions.

Secondly, cadet-level exchanges are important to enhance better military education and to foster stronger ties through mutual understanding between the two countries. Visits of this nature, while giving wide exposure to general cadets, also helps in comparing military standards with other contemporary institutes and thereby carry out introspection with a view to reviewing syllabi and positive changes/upgrades of training infrastructure. Along these lines, one can gauge the reasons why so many military academies, including the National Defense Academy of Japan (NDA), the Indian Military Academy (IMA), and all three military academies in the United States welcome so many international cadets to study alongside their own.

Thirdly, at a soft-power level, these exchanges provide cadets access to important tools for decision making, such as cultural sensitization, knowledge sharing, and language skills – all of which enhance professionalism and ties among cadets. Some of these cadets may also go on to hold senior positions in their home countries. Thus, in the future, they carry the potential to aid states to work toward their broader goals of creating peace and stability: regionally and internationally.

An Assessment of International Military Education in Japan and India

To understand the gaps that could potentially be filled, taking stock of both country’s military education programs and international exchanges is important.

The National Defense Academy of Japan (NDA)

Cadets in Japan are trained and educated at the NDA in Yokosuka.1 The uniqueness of the academy lies in its dual education/training structure in which its educational curricula are in full conformity with the Japanese university standards set by the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology (MEXT), while the standards of the academy’s basic defense studies and training are set by the Ministry of Defense (MOD). This has been an important factor for the cadets to cultivate their identities within the realm of Japanese society.

The academy is also unique for its long history of incorporating international cadets into its educational system, starting from 1958. As of 2019, Japan has accepted more than 2,000 foreign cadets.2 Through their daily interactions with international cadets, the exchanges have widened the international awareness and perceptions held by the Japanese cadets. This reception of international cadets at the academy has been extremely important for the Japanese cadets, who have mostly been brought up in a mono-ethnic society that lacks firsthand knowledge of non-Japanese people. Simultaneously, the exchanges have enabled the international cadets to acquire a value of internationalization and a more nuanced and deeper understanding of Japanese culture and lifestyle.

At the cadet level, the NDA has both long- and short-term exchanges with key Indo-Pacific states such as the United States, Australia, and a majority of ASEAN states. With respect to its long-term, five-year program, the NDA receives about 120 international cadets—25 cadets each year, from about 10 countries—mainly from Southeast Asia.3

The international cadets who enroll in the long-term exchange program are initially required to complete a one-year Nihongo (Japanese language) course. At this point, they are called “zero-class” students and are not yet categorized as “cadets.” Upon completion of the first year of language training, they will become “freshmen” cadets and study and train together with other Japanese cadets for the following four years until their graduation. One of the main reasons for the full year of Japanese language education is that the courses taught at NDA are primarily in that medium.

With regards to shorter programs, the NDA has a two-year program (for sophomore and junior years) for cadets from countries including the Republic of Korea (ROK). In addition, the NDA receives cadets from the United States (army, navy, and air force), Australia (joint institution), and France (air force) for one semester—which is approximately four months. The NDA also offers 10-day visits to the academy for cadets from Australia, India, the ROK, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States.

Further, the NDA also sends more than 50 Japanese cadets, many of them juniors, overseas each year. Those studying in the ROK do so for a year for the air force cadets, and one semester for the army and navy cadets. Other one-semester exchanges include those in Australia, France (army, navy, and air force), Germany (army and air force), Qatar, and the United States (army, navy, and air force).4 NDA cadets also engage in one- to three-week visits to the service academies of Brazil, Canada, China, India, Russia, Singapore, Thailand, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

The training and exchange of military officers and personnel is a vital component of the strategic partnership between Japan and its partner states in the defense and political-security arenas. For example, Rear-Admiral Edwin Leong from Singapore graduated from the NDA in 1998. Having majored in aerospace engineering at the NDA, he is now Head of Naval Operations in Singapore.5 Another key example is with Thailand, with which the NDA’s international exchange program has its longest relationship, starting in 1958. Two, four-star generals (one from the Air Force and one from the Navy) have been graduates from NDA and have become prominent and influential leaders in the Royal Thai Armed Forces.

Finally, in addition to the exchange programs listed above, the NDA annually holds the International Cadets’ Conference and invites cadets from about 20 countries, including India and China.

To laud these achievements, in November 2018, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe held a Reception for the Gathering of the Foreign Cadet Graduates of the National Defense Academy. The prime minister emphasized that this gathering was the first of its kind to build a network with foreign cadets who graduated from the NDA.6

The Indian Military Academy (IMA)

India has several defense training institutions and military academies. While Indian cadets train at a number of institutions, such as the National Defence Academy and Army Cadet College, international cadets, known as the Foreign Gentleman Cadets (FGC), are trained at the Indian Military Academy.

Since 1948, a limited number of cadets from African and Asian countries with close ties to India have received “pre-commission training” at the IMA.7 These countries have included Angola, Afghanistan, Bhutan, Myanmar, Ghana, Iraq, Jamaica, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Nepal, Nigeria, the Philippines, Singapore, Tanzania, Uganda, Yemen, and Zambia. In recent years, Sudan, the Maldives, Botswana, and Lesotho have also sent cadets to IMA.

Due to the fact that more underdeveloped or weaker states have small armies and lack the infrastructure to train their military officers, they seek help from larger and better-equipped countries such as India for the training of their officers. This trend is reflected in the number of FGM graduates. For example, as of 2016, a total of 1,961 foreign cadets graduated from the academy, with the highest number of the cadets coming from India’s neighborhood: Bhutan, 551; Afghanistan, 422; Sri Lanka, 263; Nepal, 141; and Tajikistan, 144.8

Neighborhood states and smaller nations aside, it should also be noted that other states with more developed militaries too, such as France and Singapore, have previously sent their cadets to India to receive a military education and to foster stronger ties between the two countries.9

India has a steady number of FGC intakes every year. In 2016, 53 FGCs graduated from the IMA;10 in 2018 and 2019, there were 80 and 77 such graduates respectively.11

However, more recently, the Indian government announced that it has prohibited its armed forces personnel from partaking in training courses that are funded by foreign governments.12 New Delhi has stated that it would allow armed forces personnel to attend training in foreign countries only when deemed utmost necessary and that the Indian government would pay for such training.13

Against this background, it is worth noting that despite being one of the most professional providers of military training in the world, India still faces significant gaps in terms of military education, beyond tactical and operational issues. Given the increasingly interdependent and complex nature arising in Indo-Pacific region, collaborating and expanding its military education scope with like-minded, trusted partners could be beneficial.

Potential Areas of Collaboration between India’s and Japan’s Cadet Programs

Scholarships and Exchanges

Starting in 1996, the Japanese government has a scheme to annually offer full scholarships to international cadets to study at the NDA, under the NDA’s international exchange program.14 If a foreign cadet is enrolled at the NDA, she/he is exempted from paying for tuition, rooms, uniforms, food, and all medical treatment at the academy or other medical institutions of the Japan Self-Defense Forces.15

While this may be difficult for Indian cadets to access due to the limitations on receiving foreign training, it should be noted that Indian military personnel can themselves identify suitable foreign institutions for training courses and seek government funding.16 Further, it is worth acknowledging that the “US and UK have for a long period primarily sponsored the Indian military officers’ training. Many times, it is done on a reciprocal basis.”17

Given the strong bilateral ties between India and Japan, both countries can work to establish a scheme wherein both states can reciprocate with scholarships, therefore allowing for Indian cadets to apply to study at the NDA and Japanese cadets at the IMA. This could first start with short-term semester exchanges and then graduate to long-term exchanges.

Further, another area for opening up potential exchange collaborations is with India’s National Cadet Corps (NCC). Through its Youth Exchange Programme (YEP), India has sent over 100 young cadets to participate in NCC activities of the host country to create an increased awareness and appreciation of each other’s socioeconomic and cultural realities.18 While countries have included Bangladesh, Bhutan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Nepal, Russia, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Turkmenistan, and Vietnam, exchanges with an important bilateral partner such as Japan are yet to be seen.

Finally, in 2014, the Indian Naval Academy in Ezhimala, Kerala, opened its doors to foreign cadets, albeit only cadets from the Indian Ocean region: Maldives, Sri Lanka, and Mauritius.19 While it is key for India to engage its neighboring, smaller states, given the importance that both India and Japan place on maritime security and a large array of maritime issues, cadet-level exchanges could go a long way toward deepening higher-level ties. Thus, it is worth exploring complementarities here as well.

Soft-power Engagements

Soft-power engagements have always been important in deepening ties between states, and in a number of ways, it is no different in the realm of professional military education.

Host-family relations. Unlike the Japanese cadets, international cadets are assigned to Japanese host families who will take care of the students outside the NDA. The system is aimed to give international cadets some “relief” time so that they can learn more about the Japanese culture and system without having to cope with the various stresses they usually have at NDA. Some international cadets become so close psychologically with their host families that they would call their Japanese host-family members as “fathers/mothers/brothers/sisters.”

As mentioned previously, if India and Japan were to initiate either short- or long-term cadet exchanges, they would have the opportunity to provide their cadets with this unique and invaluable human experience.

Language. Taking stock of India’s important bilateral partnerships, Indian cadets are trained in a number of foreign languages. Cadet courses in Russian, English, Arabic, and French are offered. In 2012, given the importance India places on China, and as part of a pilot project of the Indian MOD, Indian cadets studying at one of the oldest Rashtriya Military Schools (RMS), located in Chail, Himachal Pradesh, also started studying the Chinese language.20 However, there has been no introduction of Nihongo yet.

Further, Japan’s NDA offers Nihongo training for one full year to those international cadets who engage in the five-year exchange program. However, since India does not partake in this long-term cadet-level exchange, Indian cadets do not have access to this opportunity as well, to take up the study of Nihongo. Thus, despite Japan being one of India’s increasingly important bilateral partners, there is yet to be an option for Indian cadets to learn Nihongo, either at the IMA or even at the NDA.

On the other hand, for the Japanese cadets, at Japan’s NDA, academic education and training are, in general, held in Japanese. The NDA also offers foreign language courses for the cadets: it is mandatory for the cadets to take English language courses, as well as one of the following languages as their secondary foreign language: Arabic, Chinese, French, German, Korean, Portuguese, and Russian. Here as well, there is no option or possibility to learn Hindi.

Further, while these foreign language courses are certainly beneficial in improving the basic foreign language skills for the cadets, the effects of these courses are somewhat restricted in a way, because they do not necessarily provide Japanese cadets with an adequate level of language skills to effectively engage in other academic courses and training in a foreign language.

Thus, as India’s ties deepen with Japan, offering academic and training courses in English for the Japanese cadets, for example, could well be a meaningful step.

Cultural Clubs. As part of the extracurricular activities, the cadets of Japan’s NDA can join a number of cultural and/ or athletic clubs.21 As part of cultural clubs, Indonesian, Mongolian, Korean, Thai, Vietnamese, Cambodian, and East Timorese cultures are among the topics and activities that NDA cadets have access too.

Once again, if Indian cadets were able to take part in the long term or short term exchanges (or vice-versa), they could actually form their respective country clubs and promote a deeper understanding of India or Japan at a much earlier and younger stage, rather than waiting for mid-level or senior officer level exchanges to do this.

While, this can be viewed as a very small step, cultural activities and cultural clubs in universities go a long way in deepening people to people ties.

Faculty exchanges and syllabi content analysis. The academic levels of international cadets differ greatly based upon not only their personal academic background but also the levels of educational systems of their countries of origin. For example, international cadets from countries such as East Timor had a harder time in their studies at Japan’s NDA because of the lack of or insufficient educational systems in their home countries.

Additionally, in November 2018 one of the authors of this article visited Japan’s NDA to deliver a guest lecture on India–Japan relations in the Indo-Pacific. This was attended by approximately 40 cadets from Japan, the United States, and a few ASEAN nations. Many cadets expressed how the scope of certain geographic areas such as the Bay of Bengal or other geopolitical and geostrategic terms in the Indo-Pacific region were completely new to them.

Given the growing role that both Japan and India are shouldering in the Indo-Pacific region, faculty exchanges give the academies an opportunity to review syllabi and also have an informed and updated understanding of what each academy is teaching and focusing on. This in turn would enable the cadets to have access to higher quality education.


Under the banner of the Special Global and Strategic Partnership, India and Japan have been strengthening their defense ties through various exchanges and conducting trainings at an unprecedented pace in recent years. In doing so, the two countries have begun to establish a foundation to deepen a sense of trust between their militaries.

However, there are still areas in this partnership that remain significantly untapped. One such key area brought forth in this article has been the lack of sound people-to-people networking at the cadet level between the two states. As such, this article has highlighted a number of potential areas of collaboration in this realm that could be further explored by India and Japan. A truly effective and sustainable relationship is developed through a sense of affinity that can be better cultivated at an early stage of one’s professional career, a vital period in which people develop identity and awareness as well as learn to respect the value of diversity and mutual interdependence.

Vindu Mai Chotani

Ms. Chotani is a PhD student at the Graduate School of Public Policy, the University of Tokyo.

Dr. Shutaro Sano

Dr. Sano is a senior researcher at the Institute for National Strategic Studies (INS), former professor at the National Defense Academy of Japan, and Colonel, Ground Self-Defense Force (retired).


1 In addition to the undergraduate courses offered for the cadets, the NDA also has graduate courses, both at the masters and Ph.D. level for Self-Defense Forces officers.

2 Cabinet Public Relations Office, Government of Japan, “Reception for the Gathering of the Foreign Cadet Graduates of the National Defense Academy,” 28 November 2019,

3 As of April 2020, Brunei is the only ASEAN country that has yet to send its cadets to the NDA.

4 In the past, the NDA also received cadets from the Virginia Military Institute (VMI).

5 Cabinet Public Relations Office, “Reception for the Gathering.”

6 Cabinet Public Relations Office, “Reception for the Gathering.”

7 “IMA trains growing number of young foreign army officers,” India Review, June 2006, 5,

8 Times News Network, “53 Foreign Cadets from 8 Countries complete their training,” Times of India, 10 December 2016,

9 “IMA trains growing number of young foreign army officers,” India Review.

10 “IMA trains growing number of young foreign army officers,” India Review.

11 Press Trust of India, “427 cadets pass out from Indian Military Academy,” Economic Times, 8 December 2018,; and Kalyan Das, “459 Gentleman Cadets pass out of IMA,” Hindustan Times, 9 June 2019,

12 “India Bars Its Military from Undertaking Foreign-Sponsored Training,” Sputnik News, 22 September 2017,

13 “India Bars Its Military from Undertaking Foreign-Sponsored Training,” Sputnik News.

14 Embassy of the Republic of Philippines, “Another Batch of Two Filipino Cadet Scholars Graduate From The National Defense Academy of Japan,” 23 April, 2018,

15 National Defence Academy of Japan, “Education of Foreign Cadets and Foreign Graduate Students,”

16 Maj Gen R. K. Arora, ret., chief editor of Indian Military Review, cited in “India Bars Its Military from Undertaking Foreign-Sponsored Training,” Sputnik News, 22 September 2017,

17 “India Bars Its Military from Undertaking Foreign-Sponsored Training,” Sputnik News.

18 Press Trust of India, “NCC, Kyrgyz Republic MoU for youth exchange programme,” Business Standard, 5 January 2017,

19 P. Sudhakaran, “Indian Naval Academy opens doors to foreign cadets”, Times of India, 12 December 2014,

20 Ajay Suru, “Cadets of Chail military school to learn Dragon’s language,” Times of India, 3 April 2012,

21 National Defence Academy of Japan, “Extracurricular Activities,”


The views and opinions expressed or implied in JIPA are those of the authors and should not be construed as carrying the official sanction of the Department of Defense, Department of the Air Force, Air Education and Training Command, Air University, or other agencies or departments of the US government or their international equivalents. See our Publication Ethics Statement.