Japan Deploys 1st Surface-To-Ship Missile Unit On Okinawa Island To Puncture Chinese Navy Threats

Despite pressures from the local populace, Japan’s recent deployment of its first surface-to-ship missile unit equipped with Type 12 missiles on Okinawa’s main island is a substantial leap in boosting its defense capabilities.

On March 30, a ceremony was held to commemorate the deployment of Japan’s first surface-to-ship missile unit on Okinawa’s main island. The event comes as Japan enhances its defensive measures in response to China’s growing assertiveness in the region. 

Speaking at the ceremony, Senior Vice Defense Minister Makoto Oniki emphasized Okinawa’s strategic importance in safeguarding Japan’s interests, given its central location in a chain of Japanese islands extending towards Taiwan. 

Okinawa also holds immense strategic importance in the US defense framework in the region. The critical island base hosts approximately 30,000 troops across all four branches of the military.  

The surface-to-ship missile regiment was established on March 21. Equipped with Type 12 surface-to-ship guided missiles, the regiment’s primary task will be to monitor Chinese military vessels navigating the waters between Okinawa and Miyako Island. 

Developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the Type 12 surface-to-ship missile boasts advanced features, including inertial guidance, GPS, and radar-guided systems. 

With an operational range spanning between 200 and 400 kilometers, plans to augment its range to “at least” 1,000 kilometers by 2026 are on. This initiative aligns with Japan’s ambitious $320 billion rearmament program announced in 2022.

Introduced as a successor to the Type 88 surface-to-ship missiles in 2001, the Type 12 system commenced deployment in 2014. While its fundamental configuration mirrors its predecessor, notable enhancements have been made to the mounted vehicle and missile storage container.

According to statements from the Defense Ministry, the combined number of officers stationed at the headquarters of the newly established regiment, along with the troops under their authority, is estimated to be approximately 200.

Similar surface-to-ship missile units are already operational on Miyako and Ishigaki islands in Okinawa Prefecture, as well as Amami-Oshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture. 

This is the first deployment of a surface-to-surface missile unit on Okinawa’s main island. It also signifies the maiden deployment of Type 12 surface-to-ship missiles on Okinawa’s main island, marking a substantial leap forward in defense capabilities within the area.

The island’s residents have expressed concerns about heightened military tensions since the central government has plans to equip Okinawa Prefecture with an upgraded version of the Type 12 missile with an extended firing range, slated for deployment starting in the fiscal year commencing April 2025.

Governor Tamaki Denny of Okinawa has consistently opposed the deployment of armaments with counterstrike capabilities in the prefecture, which already hosts the bulk of US military facilities in Japan. 

Japan To Build ‘Civilian Bomb Shelters’ Amid Fears Of Chinese Attack On Taiwan Engulfing Region

Tokyo Seeks To Counter Chinese Military

Japan’s recent deployment of the surface-to-ship missile unit is a crucial response to China’s assertive activity along the first island chain, a strategically significant area stretching from the Japanese archipelago to Taiwan, the Philippines, Borneo, and the Malay Peninsula.

With the People’s Liberation Army increasingly active in contested zones like the Miyako Strait, including the deployment of nuclear-capable bombers, the importance of Japan’s defensive measures cannot be overstated. 

Speaking to EurAsian Times, Shashank S Patel, a geopolitical analyst who keenly monitors Geopolitical trends in East Asia, said, “The deployment of the Type 12 surface-to-sea missiles in Okinawa’s main island is a direct message of Japan to China to not expand their offensive in the Western Pacific.”

He added, “It enables JGSDF to secure Miyako, Amami-Oshima & Ishigaki islands prudently in the Southern region, extending its reach towards Taiwan. Type 12 SSMs under Up to Date Command (UDTC) are more lethal to Chinese naval vessels due to their accuracy and capability to break through enemy air defenses.” 

He also pointed out that given the accelerating pace of Chinese military buildups, it is essential for Japan to develop counterattack capabilities to safeguard its remote islands.

Tokyo sees the growing and assertive presence of the Chinese military as indicative of the most severe and complex security environment it has experienced since the end of World War II. This deployment is just one among many steps Tokyo is taking to bolster its defenses amid rising tensions.

In addition to the missile unit deployment, Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) recently completed the deployment of all its amphibious operation units. 

Established in 2018, the GSDF Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade has been gradually deployed. Its primary mission is to reclaim remote islands in case of an invasion.

Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile - Wikipedia
Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile – Wikipedia

According to GSDF officials, the latest deployment significantly enhances Japan’s ability to swiftly respond to any potential contingency. 

The brigade’s strategic positioning allows for prompt dispatch to southwestern waters or the territory surrounding the Nansei Islands, ensuring a robust defense posture in the region.

Meanwhile, reports from Politico suggest that the US, Japan, and the Philippines are considering joint naval patrols in the South China Sea, with an official announcement expected at an upcoming summit. 

China opposes such steps, with the Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman criticizing the US for reinforcing its Asia-Pacific deployments, alleging a Cold War mindset and accusing the US of seeking selfish gains and maintaining hegemony through confrontation.

China contends that Japan aims to exploit delicate regional matters to demonstrate strength, a move that could jeopardize peace and stability in the area, leading to a significant crisis and escalating arms competition.