Japan upgrading missile defense to deter North Korea
Japan’s military is proposing record spending to counter what it believes is a continued missile threat from North Korea.
The biggest item in Japan’s spending plan released in late August 2018 is the U.S. $2.1 billion purchase of a new missile-defense system, The Wall Street Journal newspaper reported. In addition to buying Aegis Ashore missile tracking stations, Japan’s military also intends to purchase longer-range SM-3 interceptor missiles that can strike enemy missiles in space, Reuters reported.
A pair of land-based Aegis systems can cover the entire country and enhance Japan’s missile defense, experts say. It would take the military about six years to make them operational, The Associated Press (AP) reported.
Although North Korea has pledged to denuclearize the Korean Peninsula, it has tested more than 40 missiles since 2016, including intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that either soared over or landed near Japan. Japan’s military believes Pyongyang likely has miniaturized nuclear warheads that can be carried by ICBMs.
Japan is updating its national defense guidelines to reflect the missile threat from North Korea and has improved its amphibious capabilities to counter the People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) assertiveness in regional seas.
“The security environment surrounding Japan has turned more severe and uncertain at a much faster pace than we anticipated five years ago, when we set the current guidelines,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told a government panel, according to AP.
The new defense guidelines, Abe said, could include space and cyber defenses.
The proposed defense budget calls for military spending to rise by 2.1 percent, or U.S. $48 billion, for the year starting April 1, 2019. If lawmakers approve the request, it will be the seventh straight annual increase in defense spending under Abe.
To defend against the PRC’s growing air capabilities, Japan plans to upgrade F-15 aircraft to carry more ammunition, including cruise missiles, and to increase their electronic warfare capability. Japan’s Self-Defense Forces also plan to buy six F-35 stealth fighters. (Pictured: Two U.S. F-35B stealth fighters taxi on a runway at the U.S. Marines’ Iwakuni Air Station in Japan.)
Although it continues to modernize its arsenal, Japan’s Self-Defense Forces already are equipped with some of the world’s most advanced technology. A Credit Suisse survey published in 2015 ranked Japan as the world’s fourth most-powerful military behind the U.S., the PRC and Russia.
Abe, who faces a growing multitude of threats and wants to shift the country away from its rigid post-World War II pacifism, hopes to hold a referendum to rewrite part of Japan’s constitution to explicitly state the country’s right to have a military.
The ruling Liberal Democratic Party is expected in the fall to start drafting language that would formally recognize Japan’s military in the constitution. Amending the constitution requires two-thirds support in both houses of parliament followed by a national referendum that requires a majority vote for approval.
Currently, the constitution states that “land, sea, and air forces, as well as other war potential, will never be maintained.” In recent years, Japan’s lawmakers have interpreted that language to mean the country can maintain forces for self-defense only.