New defense guidelines to prioritize long-range missiles for defense of Japan's outlying islands


New national defense program guidelines are expected to prioritize the possession of long-range missiles for the defense of outlying islands, in the face of China’s growing military capabilities, sources have said.

The envisaged missiles will have a range of 500 to 900 kilometers and will include those intended for U.S. bombers.

It is said that the possession of such long-range missiles could change the division of roles under the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty, which now involves Japan providing defense while the United States maintains strike capabilities.

The guidelines are set to be approved by the Cabinet as early as Tuesday.

According to the Defense Ministry, the national defense budgets announced by China have surged about twelvefold in the past 20 years. China has improved its maritime and air forces and missile capabilities, and now has 57 new destroyers and frigate ships — more than the 47 Japanese destroyers — and about 850 fourth- and fifth-generation fighter jets, comparable to the F-15 and the F-35 — nearly three times as many as Japan.

Japan and the United States are particularly concerned over longer-range versions of conventional missiles, sources said.

China is said to have developed an anti-ship missile with a range of some 540 km designed to be mounted on a surface vessel. Japan’s Self-Defense Forces anti-ship missiles have a range of only 100 to 200 km.

In the event of a remote island being invaded, Japan would need to counter by approaching well into the range of the enemy ships, a senior officer of the MSDF said.

A draft outline of the defense guidelines clarified the intended acquisition of fire power enabling responses from outside the range of threat.

The missiles that the nation plans to acquire include the U.S.-made joint air-to-surface standoff missile (JASSM), which has a range of about 900 km and is a precision-guided missile featuring a high penetration power. The missile is produced mainly for U.S. Air Force B-1 bombers.

Once the position information for a target is entered, a JASSM fired from an ASDF fighter within Japan’s airspace could potentially reach inland areas in North Korea. With the missile, Japan would have a clear capability to strike enemy bases.

In line with its exclusively defense-oriented policy, the government maintains that Japan relies on the U.S. for enemy base attack capabilities within the scope of a bilateral division of roles. The new acquisitions are expected to be out of line with this defense-only policy.

Under the 2015 revised guidelines for Japan-U.S. defense cooperation, the SDF is able to provide assistance as needed when the U.S. military carries out an operation that uses striking power.

That provision in the 2015 guidelines can be taken to mean that the SDF could be involved in some way in an attack by the U.S. military on enemy bases.