The government has begun to consider deploying air-to-surface missiles on the Air Self-Defense Force’s state-of-the-art stealth aircraft F-35, primarily for the purpose of strengthening island defense. On the other hand, the deployment of air-to-surface missiles is likely to spur the debate on Japan’s possession of the capability to attack enemy bases to enhance deterrence against North Korea, which continues its development of nuclear arms and missiles, because the missiles “could be a step toward enemy base attack capability,” according to a government source.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has stressed repeatedly in Diet interpellations that Japan needs to consider possessing enemy base attack capability. One option he has cited is for the F-35s to have this capability.
The government is increasingly alarmed by North Korea’s development of nuclear arms and missiles. It is stepping up efforts to improve missile defense, but a Defense Ministry source revealed that “it will not be possible to intercept multiple missiles targeting Japan at one time.” Possessing enemy base attack capability will strengthen deterrence against North Korea.
However, deploying air-to-surface missiles will not be sufficient. A large air wing consisting of electronic warfare aircraft to neutralize the enemy’s radars, support fighters, and other aircraft will be needed to enable the F-35s to function fully. Improvement of the capability to collect intelligence to identify the targets is also indispensable. An enormous budget will be required to acquire an adequate enemy base attack system.
The political hurdle is also formidable. Since the issue will require a drastic review of defense capability, the ruling Komeito takes a cautious stance, while the opposition is also critical. China and the ROK are also expected to object.
Coordination with the U.S., which has the primary responsibility to attack enemy bases, is also necessary. The U.S. opposed this idea in 2013, when the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) were being drawn up, on the grounds that it would “heighten military tension in East Asia.”
The Trump administration is demanding that allies pay their fair share of defense costs, so it supports a stronger role for the Self-Defense Forces. A bilateral 2+2 meeting of ministers of foreign affairs and defense is scheduled to take place in Washington on July 14. Japan intends to take advantage of opportunities like this to discuss division of labor between the two countries, including the issue of attacking enemy bases. (Slightly abridged)