Japan mulls equipping F-35s with air-to-surface missiles

The first F-35A stealth fighter manufactured in Japan is seen at a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. factory in Toyoyama, Japan, on June 5. JAPAN NEWS-YOMIURI PHOTO

Stars and Stripes, By THE JAPAN NEWS/YOMIURI, 26 June 2016

TOKYO — The Japanese government is considering equipping cutting-edge F-35 stealth fighters with air-to-surface missiles, which are capable of striking remote targets on land, and plans to deploy these fighters to the Air Self-Defense Force, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

It will become the first introduction of such missiles for the Self-Defense Forces. The government hopes to allocate relevant expenses in the fiscal 2018 budget, according to sources close to the government.
The main purpose of the introduction is to prepare for emergencies on remote Japanese islands. ome experts believe the government is also eyeing possession of the capability of attacking targets such as enemy bases for the purpose of defending the country.

According to the sources, F-35 fighter jets that will replace the ASDF’s F-4 fighter aircraft are employed by U.S. forces and others. The F-35 aircraft has an advanced stealth capability that makes the aircraft less visible on enemy radar. The ASDF plans to introduce a total of 42 units of the F-35 and gradually deploy them to the Misawa Air Base in Aomori Prefecture starting at the end of this fiscal year. The government is considering introducing some additional capabilities for the aircraft.

The most likely option the government is currently focusing on is the Joint Strike Missile (JSM) that is being developed mainly by Norway, which also participated in an international project to develop the F-35. The ASDF currently has no air-to-surface missile capabilities, but the JSM has both air-to-ship and air-to-surface capabilities, with an estimated range of about 300 kilometers.

The Defense Ministry is building up national defense systems to defend remote islands, such as the Nansei Islands. In addition to deploying new Osprey transport aircraft to the Ground Self-Defense Force, the ministry plans to create an amphibious rapid deployment brigade, similar to other nations’ marines.

As an air-to-surface missile has a long range, it is possible to effectively strike a target from safe airspace. For this to be possible, the ministry decided it was necessary to consider introducing the JSM to prepare for situations such as preventing foreign military vessels from approaching remote islands or the SDF launching an operation to regain control of an occupied island.

The Joint Strike Missile (JSM) is a fifth-generation, long-range, precision-guided, stand-off missile system designed by Kongsberg Defence Systems of Norway

Meanwhile, if the F-35 aircraft with an advanced stealth capability is equipped with long-range air-to-surface missiles, it will effectively be possible to use the F-35 to attack bases in foreign countries.

The government has said that the Constitution allows Japan to possess the capability of striking enemy bases, but the nation does not actually possess the capability as its political decisions have been based on an exclusively defense-oriented policy.

If Japan introduces air-to-surface missiles, it could prompt opposition from neighboring countries. Therefore, the government is believed to be seeking the understanding of those countries by explaining that it does not intend to use the capability to attack enemy bases, but to defend remote islands.

The First Japanese-Built F-35A Unveiled At Nagoya Production Facility In Japan. Lockheed Martin Photography by Thinh D. Nguyen

However, with North Korea continuing its nuclear and missile development programs and repeatedly conducting provocative actions, there are growing calls for the government to possess the capability to strike enemy bases to improve Japan’s deterrence.

Amid such a situation, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed on multiple occasions his intention to consider the issue. On June 20, the Liberal Democratic Party’s Research Commission on Security compiled an interim report on proposals for the next medium-term defense program for fiscal 2019-23, in which it called for the government to swiftly start discussions on possessing the capability to attack enemy bases.

 

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