The government is considering a fresh deployment to Okinawa’s main island of a surface-to-ship missile unit as part of a bid to beef up defenses in response to Chinese maritime assertiveness, sources said Tuesday.
Tokyo has been proceeding with a plan to install a surface-to-ship missile unit on Okinawa Prefecture’s Miyako Island to bolster its defenses against threats to remote islands in the southwest. But it believes the main island should also have a unit as Chinese naval ships have frequently passed between the two islands — an area known as the Miyako Strait — in the East China Sea.
Miyako Island is located about 290 km southwest of the main island of Okinawa. The armaments to be deployed on the islands are expected to be the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Type-12 surface-to-ship missiles, which have a range of more than 100 km.
By placing missile units on Miyako and Okinawa’s main island, the government believes it will be able to cover the entire Miyako Strait.
Since four Chinese Navy vessels passed between the main island and Miyako Island for the first time in November 2008, a number of Chinese ships have traveled the route. Although navigating on the high seas does not violate international law, Tokyo has been on alert over such moves.
The unit’s deployment plan may be included in the country’s defense buildup guidelines and a new five-year defense spending and procurement plan, both set to be drafted by the end of the year, the government sources said.
The plan, however, could stoke the anger of residents in Okinawa, which hosts the bulk of U.S. military facilities in Japan.
Apart from Miyako Island, the Defense Ministry already has plans to deploy units in charge of anti-ship missile operations and air defense on Kagoshima’s Amami-Oshima Island and Okinawa’s Ishigaki Island.
The sources said an administrative command center is also expected to be set up on Okinawa’s main island, with the surface-to-ship units stationed on Miyako, Amami-Oshima and Ishigaki islands under its control.
Miyako and Ishigaki islands are also not far from the Japanese-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, which are also claimed by China, where they are known as the Diaoyu. Chinese government ships have repeatedly entered Japanese waters around the islands, stirring tensions.