As Japan adopts a more ‘active defense’ posture in the face of geopolitical and security threats in the Indo-Pacific region, its military focus has shifted towards long-range missiles.
Japan is considering extending the range of a new high-speed missile beyond 1,000 kilometers; official sources informed Kyodo News on October 30. The move seeks to defend its remote and isolated islands, including the disputed Senkaku Islands.
Beijing claims the Japanese Senkaku Islands, known as Diaoyu Islands in China, as its sovereign territory. Since the Sino-Japanese War ended in 1895, Japan has claimed the islands. However, China and Taiwan also have territorial claims over them, making the rocky islets a geopolitically disputed hotspot.
Even though the contesting claims have existed for several years, its turning point came in 2012. Three of the disputed islands were acquired by the Japanese government from their private owner in September 2012, which resulted in protests in China.
In response, Beijing declared the Senkaku Islands to be part of the “East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone” on November 23, 2013.
The tensions over these islands have persisted and become more exaggerated for Japan as China becomes more aggressive and expansionist by the day. The tensions started to flare up again in July this year after two Chinese Coast Guard vessels crossed the 12-nautical-mile contiguous zone that surrounds the islands.
Data from Japan Coast Guard on entry of Chinese Coast Guard etc vessels into Senkaku Islands continuous zone and into Japan’s territorial sea. Clear pattern of sustained high level of CN presence in contiguous zone since 2018. Little or none in both categories until 2012. pic.twitter.com/0BvrWYROFx
— Robert Ward (@RobertAlanWard) June 16, 2022
Not just China, Japan is also faced with a perpetual threat from North Korea, which recently fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward the Sea of Japan.
The missiles landed just outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which stretches up to 200 nautical miles (or about 370 kilometers) from the country’s coastline and outside its territorial seas.
The announcement from Japanese officials to extend the range of its missiles to defend Senkaku is significant, but it is not the first.
In December 2021, it was notified that the country was seeking to increase the range of its cruise missiles to more than 1,000 kilometers to ward off the threat posed by a belligerent Beijing. Over the last year, Japan has majorly shifted focus to long-range missiles.
Japan’s Plan To Counter China & North Korea
The increase in the range of these missiles will put the coastal area of China and North Korea within the line of fire.
The long-range missiles, still in development, have several characteristics that will make them challenging to intercept. For instance, the warhead of such a missile separates at a great height. It follows a zigzag path before gliding at supersonic speed toward its target after being launched from a mobile launcher.
The missile’s development got underway in fiscal 2018, and the most recent prototype can reportedly travel for several hundred kilometers. Even though the exact range of these missiles at this stage remains unknown, the ultimate objective is to go over and beyond a thousand kilometers to establish effective deterrence with PLA over the island issue.
These missiles are expected to be mass-produced from the next fiscal year and deployed by fiscal 2026. It is also noteworthy that in August this year, the previously pacifist country notified that it would develop and mass produce a cruise missile and a high-velocity ballistic missile to meet the threats from China and Russia.
Japan’s Ministry of Defense budget request asked for financing to mass produce ground-launched cruise missiles, an improved Type 12 ship-striking missile designed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (7011.T), and a new, fast glide ballistic missile that can strike ground targets.
According to government insiders, Japan is also considering purchasing Tomahawk cruise missiles developed by the United States with a range of up to 2500 kilometers that can fly at low levels.
From @WSJ: "Japan is in talks with the U.S. about buying Tomahawk cruise missiles so that it can more quickly gain the ability to attack North Korean and #China's military bases, people familiar with the matter said." https://t.co/bFosHXX3fO
— William Yang (@WilliamYang120) October 30, 2022
Further, the move to increase the range of missiles to protect the Senkaku Islands comes when Japan is working to create standoff missiles that can be launched not just from land but also ships and planes capable of targeting enemy vessels from outside their firing range.
In addition, the Japanese Yomiuri newspaper stated earlier this year that Japan is considering building up a stockpile of more than 1,000 of its intended long-range missiles to be deployed across the Nansei Islands and Kyushu.
The country seeks to bridge the missile gap with China, which has 1,900 ballistic missiles and approximately 300 cruise missiles.
After US House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited Taiwan, China started its force projection by launching five ballistic missiles into waters less than 160 kilometers (100 miles) from Japan.
The move, alongside North Korean missile launches, has triggered a frenzy in China, and long-range missiles seem to be Tokyo’s answer to these regional threats.