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SECURITY > Self-Defense Forces

New defense era / Having long-range missiles a matter of deterrence

  • April 1, 2018
  • , The Japan News , 7:52 p.m.
  • English Press

This is the second installment of a series.


“Just how far will they fly?”


On Aug. 24 last year, six Chinese military H-6 bombers flying over the sea between Okinawa Island and Miyakojima island changed their course northeastward. A command post in the basement of the Defense Ministry building was filled with tension.


The Chinese bombers flew over offshore areas near Miyazaki and Kochi prefectures, and Amami-Oshima island in Kagoshima Prefecture, before finally turning back toward China at a point off the coast of Wakayama Prefecture on the Kii Peninsula.


A source close to the government said, “It’s possible the H-6 bombers conducted a drill to bomb the Kanto region off the Kii Peninsula.”


There are various types of H-6 bombers. The cruise missiles (see below) they carry are a threat to Japan.


It is believed the Aug. 24 bombers were H-6Ks. These aircraft can fire air-to-surface nuclear-capable DH-10 cruise missiles, which have a range of 1,500 kilometers or longer.


Another type of H-6 bomber, the H-6M, can carry the air-to-ship YJ-100 missile with a range of 800 kilometers or longer.


Considering the Self-Defense Forces’ exclusively defense-oriented policy, the Japanese government has so far refrained from possessing equipment capable of long-range attacks that could be regarded as attacks on enemy bases.


For that reason, the SDF does not possess full-scale air-to-surface missiles. In terms of range, Japan’s air-to-ship missiles are shorter than China’s.


A Defense Ministry senior official reflected the mounting sense of urgency, saying, “If an actual battle took place, the SDF would be put at an extreme disadvantage because of its shorter-range missiles.”


The fiscal 2018 budget enacted Wednesday included costs related to the introduction of three kinds of long-range cruise missiles, with a range of about 500 kilometers to 900 kilometers, including joint strike missiles (JSMs) that Air Self-Defense Force F-35A fighters are to carry.


“It’s a change in defense policy,” a senior government official said emphatically.


At a press conference on Dec. 28 last year, when the ministry decided to allocate the related costs, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera repeatedly described the missiles to be introduced as “standoff missiles” — missiles that are capable of attacking targets outside the range of enemy fighters, meaning SDF fighters would not expose themselves to danger.


Without explicitly saying so, Onodera apparently had Japan’s efforts to counter China’s long-range attack capability in mind.

Japan’s current missile defense system would struggle to intercept all the missiles in a “saturation attack” — in which a large number of missiles are fired simultaneously — by North Korea.


Missiles such as JSMs are capable of attacking inland parts of North Korea from over the Sea of Japan. By possessing such equipment, Japan also aims to enhance its deterrent against North Korea. An expert said, “It paves the way for Japan to possess the capability to attack enemy bases.”


As a policy, Japan does not have the capability to attack enemy bases. Constitutionally, however, the government is in a position to allow the country to possess the ability.


On March 20, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party’s Research Commission of National Security compiled a summary of proposals concerning the National Defense Program Guidelines that the government will review at the end of this year. It included the need to discuss possessing the capability to attack enemy bases.


However, there are cautious views even within the LDP. A party lawmaker heavily involved in national defense said, “It would be inappropriate to give an impression about a change of the character of the SDF while we’re trying to amend Article 9 of the Constitution.”


Under such circumstances, the capability to attack enemy bases is unlikely to be included in the defense guidelines.

Attacks on enemy bases would require large-scale equipment, including satellites to detect targets and electronic warfare equipment for obstructing enemy radars.


It will be difficult for the SDF to fully establish the capability to attack enemy bases unless the capability is included in the new defense guidelines and the budget is expanded for that purpose.


Nevertheless, a senior Defense Ministry official stressed the significance of introducing long-range cruise missiles.


“If [they] cannot pose a threat to enemies, there is no point in possessing long-range cruise missiles. But if [the SDF] operates them in tandem with U.S. equipment, they could be used for enemy base attacks and enhance Japan’s deterrent,” the official said.


■ Cruise missiles

Precision-guided weapons utilizing radars and other equipment. A ballistic missile flies on a parabolic trajectory, but a cruise missile flies on a straight-line trajectory, as if hugging the ground or ocean surface. They can be classified as “air-to-ship,” “ship-to-ship” and “surface-to-ship.”

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