In a morning press conference held on December 8th, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera officially announced plans to acquire funding for the procurement of a long-range cruise missile system for fighter aircraft in the 2018 draft budget.
The minister explained the reasoning behind this procurement, saying, “Given that they can be employed from beyond an opponent’s weapon range and detection, they will allow us to implement a safer, more effective strategy to deal with the invasion threats to Japan.”
He further emphasized that they are also essential for the defense of the Aegis-class cruisers engaging in ballistic missile defense.
That being said, the minister noted, “In terms of offensive strike capabilities we are still dependent upon the United States, and we have no intention to alter the basic roles within the Japan-US alliance in the future.”
He contends that increased strike capabilities and the procurement of long-range missiles did not contravene the “self-defense policy.” However, the minister explained that the funding was not sought in the summer budget partially because “the seller (country of manufacture) had yet to make a decision and we were uncertain as to whether procurement was possible. An agreement has subsequently been reached.”
Three types of missiles will be procured. The Norwegian-built “JSM (Joint Strike Missile)” that has a range of 500 km and will be attached to F-35A stealth fighters. The American manufactured “JASSM (Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile)” and “LRASM (Long-range Anti-ship Missiles),” which respectively have a range of around 900 km and will be attached to modified F-15 fighters. All three types have ground attack capability, while the JSM and LRASM also have anti-ship capabilities.
In the Name of “Island Defense”
While “island defense,” in light of China’s maritime expansions, is the main impetus behind the government’s decision to procure Japan’s first cruise missiles, there have also been moves to consider gaining “enemy-base attack capability” to strike North Korea’s ballistic missile bases, and so forth.
The range of these missiles is over several hundred kilometers, which is considerably more than that of any equipment currently held by the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) and this, likely, will prove a breakthrough in Japanese defense policy.
Nonetheless, Onodera repeated the government’s original position in relation to the procurement of new missiles in his December 5th press conference, saying, “Currently the JSDF is not in possession of any equipment system designed to attack enemy bases, nor are these any plans to acquire any.”
According to one government official: “It is being explained in terms of island defense rather than enemy-base strike capabilities because of foreign interests. However, that rationale is unrelated to its capabilities as a weapon.” It is possible that the new missiles could be used to strike enemy bases and, thus, the island-defense explanation does have an aspect of “expediency.”
Deterrent to China and North Korea
Up until now, the government has allowed its hands to be tied in terms of possessing long-range missiles and aircraft, out of considerations to not pose a threat to neighboring countries, such as China and South Korea. According to one ruling party official: “In the old days, mid-air refueling capabilities were even removed from fighters in order to reduce the possible flight distance. Now it is no longer the time to be doing anything so stupid.”
The implementation of JSM will be a turning point of sorts, carrying with it greater meaning of acting as a deterrent to China and North Korea respectively.
In a ground attack, satellite-guided munitions (JDAM – Joint Direct Attack Munition), such as those currently used by Air Self-Defense Force fighters, require a fairly close approach. However, the new missiles such as JSM, attack can be launched from a distance beyond the range of a counterattack.
It is also suitable for usage against naval vessels. Currently, Air Self-Defense Force fighters operate a Type 93 Air-to-Ship missile with a range of 170 km. With the JSM and so forth, the range will become three times present capabilities. Defense Ministry officials say that “becoming long-range and stealth is the trend in all types of ‘flying machines.’”
Changes to ‘Sword and Shield’
While the government has labeled this equipment for use in island defense, it has also decided to begin research and development of new type anti-ship missiles and ground attack “High Velocity Glide Weapons,” earmarking this for next year’s budget. It has been noted that results from this research could be used in a ground attack of enemy bases.
However, the fact remains that the mere implementation of JSM does not make it possible to undertake an immediate attack on North Korean bases. Missile guidance systems require the exact location of a target. Likewise, information from satellites and unmanned aircraft is essential. Electronic warfare aircraft and so forth are necessary to evade the defense net. In this way, enemy base attack capability is comprised of a system, which includes a large amount of equipment not possessed by the JSDF.
At the press conference, Mr. Onodera expressed the view that the US military would continue to be responsible for offensive capabilities while the JSDF would remain devoted to defense. Nevertheless, the implementation of new missiles could bring about changes in the “Sword and Shield” structure.