The threat of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and missiles has entered a new dimension. Japan needs to build up its defense system commensurate with the increased threat.
Committees of both houses of the Diet adopted resolutions denouncing the latest nuclear test by North Korea as a “direct threat to the safety of this country.”
North Korea has rapidly been improving its nuclear and missile technologies, conducting two nuclear tests and firing more than 20 ballistic missiles this year alone. It is necessary to prepare for such a contingency as Pyongyang’s deploying missiles mounted with nuclear warheads.
Japan’s missile defense system comprises two tiers of preparedness: Standard Missile 3 (SM3) interceptors carried by four Aegis vessels and the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC3) surface-to-air guided missiles. The government plans to increase the number of Aegis vessels to eight, while also introducing next-generation interceptor missiles.
Reinforcement of the missile defense structure is important. However, if Japan were attacked by a large number of missiles simultaneously, it would be impossible to bring down all the missiles.
To secure its safety, Japan should not rule out the option of the Self-Defense Forces acquiring the capability to attack enemy bases. Under the Constitution, attacks on enemy bases are allowed as self-defense measures if there is an imminent danger of a missile launch.
U.S. cooperation essential
Presently, the SDF serves as a “shield,” engaged only in defense, while U.S. forces serve as a “pike” for retaliatory attacks. U.S. forces, including the U.S. 7th Fleet, maintain a large number of missiles capable of directly attacking North Korea. The SDF supplementing part of the U.S. military’s striking power would enhance the deterrence power of the Japan-U.S. alliance.
In 2013, the government discussed the possibility of acquiring the capability to attack enemy bases. The new National Defense Program Guidelines stipulate that the government will continue to study “a potential form of response capability” to deal with ballistic missiles.
Envisaged means of attack include a cruise missile system guided with the Global Positioning System to strike targets and F-35 stealth fighter jets.
Cruise missiles attacking enemy bases from a distance are considered to entail little human risk and low cost. On the other hand, targets must be inputted in advance to guide missiles, making it difficult for the cruise missile system to strike Rodong and other missiles that can be launched from mobile launching pads.
F-35s that would enter enemy airspace are capable of attacking such mobile targets. But because this would entail the risks of breaking through the enemy’s air defense system, it is vital to have an air force unit that includes support fighter jets, electronic warfare planes and airborne refueling aircraft. This would entail a sizable expense.
It is important to discuss optimal measures by studying both the strong and weak points of each means of attack and considering the cost-effectiveness of each.
Needless to say, it is unrealistic for the SDF to attack enemy bases single-handedly. The cooperation of the U.S. military for such activities as intelligence gathering and detecting potential targets is essential. The important thing is to reexamine the roles to be shared by the SDF and the U.S. military, based strictly on the assumption of close cooperation between Japan and the United States.