21st Century Asian Arms Race

To Deter North Korea, Japan Is Seriously Rebuilding Its Military Power

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Via Wikimedia Commons.

Next year will see a marked increase of Japan’s defense budget to prepare itself for a potential attack from its belligerent neighbor across the sea. Since Pyongyang’s rapidly growing missile arsenal that includes the No-Dong, Musudan, and Hwasong-class have ranges in the thousands of kilometers, the resulting crisis has served to strengthen the Asia-Pacific’s most impressive alliance–the one between Tokyo and Washington, DC.

The defense budget for 2018 is expected to reach somewhere between $46 and $47.6 billion. Although the bulk of it covers the usual expenditures to maintain the Self Defense Forces, specific amounts are earmarked for imported equipment and precision weapons. The most impressive are air-launched cruise missiles that’s the clearest proof yet Japan is strengthening its offensive firepower.

The actual dollar figure equivalent published by different news outlets vary but data from the Ministry of Defense suggests Japan’s neighbors (other than North Korea) have little to worry about. The annual defense budget only began to rise by small increments in 2013 when it grew by 0.8%. The amount spiked the following year with 2.2% growth, then receded to a non-threatening 0.8% for 2015 until 2017. But after the Ministry of Defense requested money for new capabilities mid-year some very advanced technologies could soon be delivered from the US.

The Japanese military’s procurement is known for its comprehensiveness and being very specific. All contingencies are examined and prepared for. To mitigate the existential threat of North Korean nuclear blackmail, the Self Defense Forces want:

  1. Aegis Ashore installations for specific sites. This coincides with upgrades for the Japan Aerospace Defense Ground Environment or JADGE.
  2. SM-3 Block IB and IIA anti-ballistic missiles for Aegis-equipped destroyers.
  3. PAC-3MSE missiles for the Self Defense Force’s existing Patriot batteries.
  4. R&D funds for a next-generation ballistic missile system and its warning and control radar equipment.

In December the Ministry of Defense announced upcoming purchases of two different cruise missiles for the air force, whose F-15J’s still have the farthest striking ability. These are the Lockheed Martin JASSM-ER and the Kongsberg Joint Strike Missile or JSM. The latter munition is actually meant for the F-35A and Japan is scheduled to receive 80 of these fifth-generation multirole fighters in the coming years. The first Japanese F-35A was handed over in November 2016 and once a few squadrons are completed they can expect a major role in any contingencies for defeating North Korea in a conflict scenario.

Aside from airframes delivered from the US, nearly half of the defense force’s anticipated F-35A’s are going to be assembled in Japan. This is supposed to guarantee Tokyo’s full control of its airspace in the medium-term while it slowly develops its own futuristic stealth fighter. Having the Kongsberg JSM that was designed for the F-35A makes it possible to launch air strikes on North Korean bases if these pose a direct threat to Japanese cities, including the capital.

Not surprisingly, China has taken issue with Japan’s small-scale rearmament even if there’s no proof both countries are headed to war. An editorial circulated by state media made sure to highlight how the rising defense budget and its consequent arms sales only manifested under Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s leadership. Judging by the editorial’s contents, the official view is Japan’s anti-ballistic missile stance is worrisome because it can blunt Beijing’s own formidable missile arsenal if either the Aegis Ashore or the THAAD is deployed.

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