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U.S. and Japan to jointly stockpile munitions, including near Taiwan

  • January 16, 2022
  • , Nikkei Asia , 0:20 a.m.
  • English Press

KEN MORIYASU, Nikkei Asia chief desk editor


NEW YORK — The U.S. and Japan are discussing stockpiling munitions in each other’s defense facilities across Japan, including islands in Taiwan’s vicinity, to prepare for contingencies, Nikkei has learned.


The issue of joint usage of facilities was discussed in last week’s two-plus-two meeting of foreign and defense ministers. The ministers “committed to increase joint/shared use of U.S. and Japanese facilities, including efforts to strengthen Japan Self-Defense Forces’ posture in areas including its southwestern islands,” the sides said in a statement after the meeting.


Joint use of facilities includes the stockpiling of munitions and shared use of runways, according to a source familiar with the talks. “There was progress on this issue so it was written into the joint statement,” the person said.


The southwestern islands, or Nansei Islands in Japanese, are a chain that stretches from the southernmost tip of Kyushu to the north of Taiwan. If realized, the allies would have stockpiles of munitions that can quickly be deployed and replenished in Taiwan’s immediate neighborhood. The westernmost of the Nansei Islands, Yonaguni, lies 108 km from the east coast of Taiwan.


The U.S. military has relied heavily on precision-guided munitions in operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as battling groups like the Islamic State. Combined with budget cuts, this has led to a shortage of munitions in the army, navy and air force.


Precision-guided munitions are also expected to play a pivotal role in any potential conflict in the Taiwan Strait. With an accuracy reportedly less than 3 meters, precision-guided munitions are seen as vital to breaking China’s anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy, which seeks to keep American and allied forces out of the East and South China seas.


An F/A-18F Super Hornet conducts flight operations over Atsugi, Japan.  (Photo courtesy of the U.S. Navy)

“Are there sufficient stockpiles of precision-guided munitions?” Jeffrey Hornung, a senior political scientist at Rand Corp., said. “Most critically, are the precision-guided munitions stockpiles located where the allies need them?”


For a Taiwan operation, “there is a need to ensure that stockpiles are established to support not just the initial onset of operations, but the subsequent forces flowing into Japan from the continental United States and Hawaii,” he said.


The types of munitions that the U.S. military fears could fall short include Joint Air-to-Surface Strike Munition (JASSM), a 4.3 meter-long missile that can be carried on B-1 and B-52 bombers, Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) that is carried by the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and the Advanced Anti-Radiation Guided Missile (AARGM) that is designed to target enemy air defenses.


These three types of munition “are being procured in relatively small quantities, given their potential use rates in a high-intensity conflict scenario, along with the time it would take for replacement spent munitions once initial inventories are exhausted,” a Congressional Research Service report warned in June.


Defense budget cuts have affected procurement. In fiscal 2018, the U.S. military acquired 68,800 munitions for $4.6 billion. In fiscal 2021, that was down to 39,500 munitions for $3.8 billion. The fiscal 2022 budget request saw 16,700 munitions for $3.1 billion, according to a separate CRS report.


Japan, for its part, has been strengthening munitions quality, such as extending the range of its Type 12 anti-ship cruise missile to 900 km from 200 km. But the issue of quantity has taken a back seat.


Last week’s U.S.-Japan two-plus-two was the first such meeting since March and was the first under Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who took the post in October. Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi met virtually with U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.


The two allies agreed to cooperate on research to counter game-changing new abilities such as hypersonic missiles, which are hard to intercept with traditional missile defense capabilities.


One new area of joint research that was added to the two-plus-two talks was directed energy, which damages targets with highly focused energy, such as laser weapons. Seen as a crucial technology to shoot down drones and incoming missiles, “directed energy could also replace munitions and solve the shortage issue,” the source said.


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