The Japanese government is planning to fit its next-generation F-35 fighters with advanced air-to-surface missiles, a development one analyst says would provide the Air Self-Defence Force with “a big step forward in stand-off capability”.
Japan has previously resisted the temptation to purchase air-to-surface missiles for its fighters out of concern that its neighbours would accuse Tokyo of deploying an offensive military capability. Given the deteriorating security in northeast Asia, however, the government has decided to upgrade its strike capabilities, the Yomiuri newspaper reported on Tuesday.
Japan is expected to purchase the Joint Strike Missile (JSM), developed primarily by Norway’s Kongsberg Defence Systems.
“The JSM has a tremendous capability and Japan has never previously had anything like this,” said Lance Gatling, a defence analyst and president of Tokyo-based Nexial Research Inc.
The weapon is also available as an anti-shipping variant, Gatling said, and is housed internally on the F-35 to protect its stealth capabilities.
“This weapon, combined with the F-35, will permit Japan to get much closer to targets with a high degree of stealth,” he added.
Gatling said the JSM has a unitary warhead, meaning it is designed to detonate on specific targets and is therefore ideal for attacks on land-based intercontinental ballistic missile sites, such as command-and-control facilities, hardened bunkers and silo sites. As the weapon can also be reprogrammed after launch, it is able to target mobile launcher units.
The Japanese government has expressed concern over North Korea’s development of missiles that are able to reach targets in Japan. On occasion, it has deployed Patriot Advanced Capability-3 anti-missile systems at locations in Tokyo and northern Japan, both of which are considered possible targets for North Korean strikes.
Tokyo has also deployed Aegis-equipped anti-missile destroyers in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) and is planning to add another layer of defence by buying the land-based variant of the weapon.
The JSM, however, will give the Japanese military the ability to target launch sites in North Korea if it is determined that an attack on Japan is imminent.
Gatling said deploying an offensive strike capability designed to eliminate targets at ranges of more than 300km will inevitably trigger protests from some of Japan’s neighbours. North Korea regularly claims that Japan is preparing to reinvade mainland Asia and will see this latest development as further evidence of Tokyo’s imperial ambitions. China, meanwhile, is unlikely to let the issue pass without comment.
Despite the long-running dispute over the sovereignty of the Diaoyu Islands, which are presently controlled by Japan and known as the Senkakus, Gatling believes that the deployment JSM is less aimed at China because it is very unlikely that Japan would attack sites on the mainland.
Nevertheless, the weapon would enable Japanese aircraft to attack targets on an island that has been occupied by enemy forces, something the Japanese military has been drawing up plans to counter.
The government has said that the Constitution does not specifically rule out the Japanese military having the ability to attack enemy bases.