Pretty Projectiles: How And More Importantly, Why Is Japan Seeking To Close Its 'Missile Gap' With China?

Pretty Projectiles: How And More Importantly, Why Is Japan Seeking To Close Its 'Missile Gap' With China?

by Sagar Kar Debroy - Aug 24, 2022 06:37 PM +05:30 IST
Pretty Projectiles: How And More Importantly, Why Is Japan Seeking To Close Its 'Missile Gap' With China?Weapons of war | Representative image.
  • China possesses around 300 ground-based cruise missiles and 1,900 ballistic missiles that could strike Japan.

    Japan's primary vulnerability is that it doesn't possess longer range missiles which it believes are significant enough to deter Chinese aggression in East Asia.

As friction in East Asia is rising, Japan is seeking to close its missile gap with China.

Currently, Japan lacks counterattack capability against China.

Now, to boost its counterattack capability against China, Japan is considering the deployment of 1,000 long-range cruise missiles aimed at China.

According to local newspaper reports, the missiles will have a range of 500 to 5,500 kilometres.

Most of the missiles would be stationed near the southern Nansei islands and Kyushu. They will be capable of reaching North Korea and China.

Japan's goal is to close the “missile gap” with China, which has about 300 sea-based and 1,900 land-based missiles, as per reports from the South China Morning Post.

Japan started considering this programme a few years ago. The intention was to boost its missile capabilities in the face of rising threats from China and North Korea.

This goal became more urgent after China for the first time launched five ballistic missiles into waters near Okinawa Prefecture earlier this month.

Those launches were undertaken by China as a part of the military exercises around Taiwan, which Beijing conducted in response to a visit by U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to the self-ruled island of Taiwan.

China's CCP has never controlled Taiwan but it continues to claim that democratic Taiwan is a part of its territory that it seeks to control, by force if necessary.

The Machus did control Taiwan for some time but it is pertinent to remember that the Manchus were not Hans. Manchus were a warrior ethnicity who expanded the territories of China to such an extent that no Han had ever managed to.

Hans served the role of peasants, artisans, traders and scholars in the empire.

It is only during the end of the Manchu rule, during the reign of Empress Dowager Cixi, that the Manchu warrior caste allowed intermarriage with Hans, fearing that they were loosing the trust of Hans.

Contemporary China's root ideology is Han nationalism, yet it continues to claim territories which Hans seldom ruled.

If you have visited the tapestry of history, you'd know that Taiwan was also governed by the Japanese, yet, Japan doesn't claim Taiwan.

As mentioned earlier, China possesses around 300 ground-based cruise missiles and 1,900 ballistic missiles that could strike Japan.

The launches undertaken by China also highlighted the missile gap between the United States and China, as per reports in Japanese newspapers.

Up until 2019, the US was bound by the the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty. This treaty banned "all land-based missiles with ranges of 500 km to 5,500 km." The US has now begun developing missiles in that range, according to a report from the Japan Times.

The fact that North Korea has hundreds of ballistic missiles capable of hitting Japan doesn't help ease the tension that Tokyo feels.

As if that weren't enough, recently Pyongyang claimed that it conducted test launches of hypersonic weapons, which are designed to evade defences.

Japan's primary vulnerability is that it doesn't possess longer range missiles which it believes are significant enough to deter Chinese aggression in East Asia.

The new envisioned weapons are at the core of Japan's strategic goal to deter China.

The essential requirement for attaining this goal is pursuing a counterstrike capability that would allow Japan to hit enemy bases and command-and-control centers.

Bruce Klinger, a senior analyst at the Heritage Foundation, noted in a 2020 article for the Heritage Foundation that Japan was in a situation where it will have to acquire ways to strengthen deterrence, including the capability to deter ballistic missile attacks from its adversaries.

He also highlighted former Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe’s position that passive missile defenses such as Patriot and Aegis alone would prove insufficient to defend Japan.

Japan’s Patriot and Aegis missile defences have several deficiencies.

China and North Korea are capable of firing ballistic missiles at very high angles, which result in extremely high terminal velocity speeds, undermining the effectiveness of missile defence systems.

Currently, no missile systems are optimised to defend against highly-lofted attacks, however, some believe that future software upgrades might mitigate this problem.

There is another problem with maintaining a defensive posture. Missile tracking radars often lose track of their targets at the apex of a highly-lofted trajectory. By the time they do regain track of incoming missiles, it is too late for interceptor missiles to hit.

Moreover, interceptor missiles are flying against gravity as their goal is to defend the target from incoming missiles. This makes it harder to re-adjust, catch up and hit the target at the right angle compared to the constantly-accelerating enemy missile.

Due to these deficiencies in passive missile defences, Japan is now forced to rethink its defence posture from shooting down missiles to “shooting the archer.”

The threat of imposing cost on enemy targets increases the price of any attack on Japan. This will enhance deterrence, make the region stable and curtail the ambitions of coercive powers like China.

Government talks regarding this goal of enhancing deterrence by shifting from a defensive posture to a more deterrence oriented posture is expected to become more urgent and intense in the coming months.

It is expected that the decision will be be included in the Japan’s revised National Security Strategy, set to be completed by the end of the year.

There are some, apart from China, who also oppose this move of Tokyo.

A move to acquire a counterstrike capability is a deviation from Japan’s traditional interpretation of its pacifist Constitution and the country’s exclusively defense-oriented policy. If the constitution can't be amended it certainly can be reinterpreted.

Increasingly sophisticated threats from China and North Korea have prompted Japan to rethink its defensive posture.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, has stated that Japan “will drastically strengthen its defense capabilities within five years, without ruling out any options, including the possession of counterstrike capabilities.”

Since cruise missiles are at the core of this capability, Japan’s Ministry of Defence will have to increase missile production, for which it will need to establish a system to support capital investment by related companies.

There are other challenges Japan faces in pursuing this goal, which Tokyo's policy will have to overcome if it wants to succeed.

Japan has self-imposed a 1 per cent cap on its defence budget. In other words, Japan spends less than 1 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) on defence expenditure.

Tokyo will face a trade-off between acquiring long-range strike capabilities or continuing its existing defence project because acquirement of long-range strike capabilities may come at an opportunity cost of other important defence projects. Tokyo will have to prioritise.

A sensible move would be breaking the 1 per cent cap on defence budget, although that will be an uphill task due to domestic political opposition. Tokyo needs to make the Japanese people more acutely aware of the threat that China represents.

Awareness amongst the people will dampen down the domestic opposition, making it easier for the government to change the outdated defensive posture by developing the capabilities of counter-strike that it intends to without stalling other important projects.

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