Japan puts its defense in order
TOKYO - In a significant step toward strengthening Japan's security alliance with the US, Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi's government has formally committed to the joint development of a new sea-based interceptor missile as a main pillar of the US-led missile defense system.
The joint development cost of the missile, an advanced version of the Standard Missile 3, or SM3, is estimated at a maximum of US$2.7 billion, with Japan shouldering up to $1.2 billion and the US paying the rest.
The decision to move onto the development stage and pay the $1.2 billion was made by the Security Council of Japan. It was endorsed at a Cabinet meeting on December 24, along with the fiscal 2006 budget.
In terms of that budget, Japan will cut its overall defense spending by 0.9% to 4.8137 trillion yen ($41.35 billion), out of a total budget of $684 billion.
Japan's share of the missile budget will be spread over nine years starting in fiscal 2006. The two allies plan to begin production of the next-generation interceptor missile in fiscal 2015, which will be deployed on Aegis-equipped destroyers.
Japan will play a leading role in developing a nose cone, which protects an infra-red sensor from heat caused by air friction, and a two-stage rocket motor, while the US will develop a kinetic warhead, which targets an incoming missile and destroys it, and an infra-red sensor, which detects infra-red rays to identify and track targets. Japan and the US have conducted joint technological research into the new missile since 1999.
Separately from the joint development of an enhanced SM3 with the US, Japan will begin to test elements of the US-led missile defense, or MD, system at the end of fiscal 2006. Many experts have raised deep doubts about the efficacy of the MD system, claiming that it will end up a money-guzzling white elephant.
Japan and the US launched joint technological research into an enhanced SM3 in 1999, after North Korea shocked the world - and Japan in particular - by test-firing a Taepodong 1 missile over Japan into the Pacific.
North Korea claims it was a rocket intended to put a satellite into orbit. North Korea has deployed an estimated 200 or so shorter-range Rodong missiles capable of striking almost all of Japanese territory. North Korea is widely believed to be developing a more advanced Taepodong 2 missile capable of reaching Alaska, Hawaii or perhaps even the US West Coast.
Since last year, the US Navy has been patrolling the Sea of Japan to watch out for missiles from North Korea. It is anybody's guess outside of North Korea whether North Korean warheads are advanced enough to deliver weapons of mass destruction.
In December 2003, Japan decided to introduce the MD system at the end of fiscal 2006. In December 2004, when it adopted a new National Defense Program Outline, Japan also eased a decades-old ban on arms exports, enabling the export of parts and components needed for the joint development and production of the advanced MD system. This easing paved the way for Japan to move into the development stage of a new interceptor missile.
In July, the diet, or Japan's parliament, enacted a law to revise the Self-Defense Forces (SDF) law to allow the Defense Agency chief to order emergency missile interceptions without waiting for approval from the prime minister and the cabinet. Since North Korean missiles would reach Japanese territory in about 10 minutes, the defense chief could not afford to follow normal procedures.
The Defense Agency is planning to procure 124 Patriot Advanced Capability 3, or PAC3, surface-to-air missiles by the end of fiscal 2010. PAC3 missiles are intended to hit incoming missiles at an altitude of up to 20 kilometers that have escaped SM3 interceptor missiles launched from the SDF's Aegis-equipped destroyers.
Four bases in Saitama, Shizuoka, Gifu and Fukuoka prefectures will get four PAC3 launch systems each. There will be two backup units. The first 32 of the PAC3 missiles, which are estimated to cost $4.2 million each, will be imported from the US.
The Defense Agency is planning to have domestic defense contractor Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd licensed to produce the rest. Mitsubishi is expected to conclude a contract with US manufacturer Lockheed Martin Corp by March and produce PAC3 missiles beginning in fiscal 2008.
Although the cost of producing the missiles domestically is much higher than purchasing them from the US, the long-term costs, including maintenance, will be less and Japan will also be able to boost its own missile production technologies.
The Defense Agency plans to extend the MD system using PAC3 missiles, first to Tokyo and six other major urban centers. The other areas not covered will be dependent on interception by SM3 missiles launched from Aegis-equipped ships.
Under an operational plan compiled recently by the Defense Agency, the prime minister's official residence, the diet, the Imperial Palace and central government offices are given top priority for protection. Nuclear power plants and the command facilities of the SDF and US forces in Japan are also designated priority facilities for protection.
The plan envisages joint operation between the SDF and US military forces in Japan for intercepting missiles in the event of an attack on Japan. The Defense Agency would also consider taking joint combat action with the US to counter an attack, even when the target is ambiguous.
The Defense Agency will improve its missile surveillance network by deploying four new radar units and upgrading seven others by fiscal 2009. The upgrades involve the EPS-3 radar system deployed at seven locations - Hokkaido, Akita, Fukushima, Ishikawa, Kyoto, Mie and Saga prefectures.
The four new radar units will feature the newly developed EPS-XX radar system and will be deployed in Kagoshima, Niigata, Aomori and Okinawa prefectures. Both types of radar systems are designed to detect and track ballistic missiles flying at a speed of around Mach 10 at an altitude of more than 300 kilometers.
These new ground-based radar systems, coupled with radar on the SDF's Aegis-equipped destroyers to be deployed in the Sea of Japan are intended to enable the nation to quickly detect incoming missiles and accurately calculate their projected impact points.
Stronger security alliance with the US
Japan's decision on the joint development and production of a new interceptor missile with the US comes as the two countries are accelerating moves toward a stronger overall security alliance. Koizumi and US President George W Bush, who both took office in early 2001, have forged a close personal relationship. Koizumi has been one of the staunchest supporters of the Bush administration's "war on terror" and the Iraq war.
The Koizumi government enacted two new controversial laws to enable the SDF to assist the US-led military operations in Afghanistan and Iraq. Under the first law, enacted in October 2001, SDF naval vessels have been dispatched to the Indian Ocean to back up US-led coalition forces' operations in Afghanistan through fuel supplies to coalition warships. Under the second law, enacted in August 2003, the SDF's ground troops have been deployed in the southern Iraqi city of Samawah on a humanitarian and reconstruction mission.
Japan and the US are now in the final stages of negotiations on the realignment of American forces in Japan as part of the US's global "transformation" of its military. The US expects Japan to play the role of strategic hub through the new arrangements.
At their "two-plus-two" meeting in Washington at the end of October, defense and foreign chiefs from Japan and the US adopted an interim report on the realignment plan for US forces aimed at promoting greater military integration between the two nations and lessening the burden on communities hosting US bases, including a reduction of 7,000 Marines in Okinawa.
Under the agreement, the Air Self-Defense Force will move its air defense command from Fuchu to the US's Yokota air base in Tokyo, to be stationed side by side with the US Air Force Japan Command Center. This will enhance cooperation in air and missile defense as well as sharing information. The two countries are to finalize an interim report in March after working out further details.
Australia, another steadfast ally of Bush, announced at the end of 2003 a decision to join the US-led MD shield, although Canada decided early this year not to join in in the face of strong objections from its people.
Concerns both at home and abroad
China has expressed it concern over these developments in Japan, partly as Beijing fears that the system could be used to defend Taiwan.
Critics also fear that Japan's full participation in the US-led MD shield will lead to an escalation in an arms race. Analysts say that China possesses about 30 intercontinental ballistic missiles, which could reach the US, and is now turning them into multiple independently targeted re-entry vehicles to counter the US MD system.
Japan's relations with China have plunged to their lowest point since they opened diplomatic ties in 1972 due to Koizumi's repeated visits to the war-related Yasukuni shrine, territorial and natural gas disputes in the East China Sea, and other issues.
Japan's decision to jointly develop a new interceptor missile with the US is also expected to spark a fresh round of hot political debate on the boundary of the nation's defense activities permitted under the pacifist, post-World War II constitution.
In a move that is particularly expected to add fuel to this debate, Tokyo and Washington are considering stationing an X-band radar system for the planned joint MD shield at a Japanese air force base in Tsugaru, Aomori prefecture, 360 miles northeast of Tokyo.
The X-band system is more advanced than the system Japan is scheduled to install in fiscal 2008 to guard against medium-range ballistic missiles. It is intended to guard against missiles aimed at the US. It has a longer detection range, enabling it to respond to ballistic missiles launched from deep within a continent, and is also capable of differentiating missile shapes. The US successfully completed an experiment in September in which the X-band radar distinguished between decoy and ballistic missiles.
Deploying a radar system in Japan designed to defend the US homeland would raise questions about conformity to provisions in the Japan-US Security Treaty that call for the supply of facilities solely for Japan's defense and peace and security in the Far East.
Critics also claim that Japan's decision to ally with the US will lead to the death of the longstanding Japanese arms export ban.
Hisane Masaki is a Tokyo-based journalist, commentator and scholar on international politics and economy. Masaki's e-mail address is [email protected]
First published in www.atimes.com