Saturday, June 20, 2015

• Japan's 5 Most Lethal Weapons of War - Kyle Mizokami

 Japan's 5 Most Lethal Weapons of War
Kyle Mizokami
Once upon a time—just six years ago, actually—Northeast Asia was a security backwater. China was in the midst of the “peaceful rise” policy advocated by Deng Xiaoping and though her defense budget grew at a prodigious rate, her neighbors were unconcerned.



The main threat was North Korea, which had successfully tested a nuclear weapon in 2006 and had a growing arsenal of conventional ballistic missiles. But even this threat, once a ballistic missile shield were put in place, could be mitigated.
Japan’s defense policy and establishment, aside from upgrading the Ministry of Defense to a cabinet-level role, remained largely unchanged. The defense budget remained largely unchanged, and when it did, it dropped. Life in Japan went on.

But in 2010, things took a dramatic turn for the worse. The detaining of Chinese fishing boat off the Senkaku Islands turned into an international incident, and China began pressing its claim to what it called the Diaoyu Islands. Anti-Japanese rhetoric sparked nationalist riots. Air and naval confrontations began between the two countries in the East China Sea, and continue to this day.

In North Korea, the ascendence of Kim Jong in 2011 and the continued development of its nuclear and missile programs have raised questions of whether a mere missile shield is enough to protect the country.

For Japan, it’s the same security environment, but in every way worse. Japan’s neighbors are making noise and the defense budget is up—albeit slightly—to pay for new weapons. With that in mind, here are Japan’s five most deadly weapons of war.

Izumo-class Helicopter Destroyer
Japan’s second run of “helicopter destroyers,” the Izumo class is an evolutionary growth over the earlier Hyuga-class. There will be two so-called “destroyers,” the namesake and an as-yet unnamed second ship currently under construction.

The ships, which feature a full-length flight deck, hangar, and aircraft elevators measure 248 meters long with a beam 38 meters and a displacement of 19,500 tons. The ships have a crew of approximately 470 individuals. The flight deck and hangar are designed to accommodate up to fourteen helicopters, including CH-47 Chinook helicopters. The flight deck is sufficiently large to allow simultaneous flight operations by up to five helicopters.

The Maritime Self-Defense Force describes Izumo as a multi-purpose vessel. The primary stated role is anti-submarine warfare, with the ship embarking Mitsubishi H-60 sub-hunting helicopters. A secondary role is as a disaster relief/humanitarian assistance platform: the Izumo has a 35 bed hospital complete with a surgical suite and accommodations for up to 450 passengers.

A third role was illustrated by Izumo’s smaller sister ship, Hyuga, during the 2013 Dawn Blitz exercises. During Dawn Blitz, Hyuga embarked Japanese marines and Ground Self Defense Force CH-47J and AH-64J helicopters to conduct air assaults.

The most interesting role for the Izumo class would be that of fixed-wing aircraft carrier. Although Japan has not announced plans to use the ships as such, the fact they are large enough to carry the F-35B Joint Strike Fighter can’t be ignored. The F-35B would be useful supporting the Japanese marine brigade in amphibious operations, as well as providing additional fighters to help monitor the Ryukyu and Senkaku Island chains.

Properly retrofitted to support fixed-wing operations, each Izumo might be able to embark up to a dozen F-35Bs. The question is whether such a small number of aircraft would be worth the astronomical investment, especially a country with as much public debt as Japan.

Soryu-class Diesel Electric Submarines
Japan’s Soryu-class submarines have been described as the most advanced diesel-electric submarines in the world. Displacing 4,100 tons submerged, the submarines can make thirteen knots on the surface and up to twenty knots submerged. Four Stirling air independent propulsion systems allow the Soryuclass to remain underwater longer than most conventionally-powered submarines.

The Soryu class is built by two shipyards, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Kawasaki Shipbuilding Corporation. The Soryu class is armed with six bow-mounted torpedo tubes, with a total of 20 Type 89 high-speed homing torpedoes and American-made Sub-Harpoon missiles.

There are currently eight Soryu class submarines, with more under construction. In response to increased tensions with China and a growing People’s Liberation Army Navy submarine fleet, in 2010 Japan decided to increase its own submarine force from sixteen to twenty-two.

The Soryu-class is in the running to replace Australia’s troubled Collins submarines. Australia may require up to twelve submarines. If the Soryus are picked, the first submarines would likely be built in Japan with the rest co-produced in Australia. India has invited Japan to submit the Soryu class for its Project 75I competition, which has a requirement for six diesel electric submarines.

A disadvantage to this otherwise excellent submarine is its relatively short range. The Soryu-class is essentially a defensive submarine meant to cover key invasion routes to Japan: the Tsugaru Strait, Tsushima Strait, Kanmon Strait, and the Soya Strait.

Japan’s submarine fleet would be a major threat to the People’s Liberation Army Navy, which does not have a strong tradition in anti-submarine warfare. Japan has a strong submarine tradition going back a hundred years, and Japanese sub crews are reportedly trained to a very high standard.

Atago-class destroyers
Japan has a large fleet of over 40 destroyers, the result of a hard lesson learned during the Second World War. The Imperial Japanese Navy had insufficient ships to secure its sea lanes, and blockaded by U.S. Navy submarines, life in Japan nearly ground to a halt. The problem has only become more acute since then and, more than any other modern country, Japan relies upon air and sea lanes for her national survival.

Japan’s most capable destroyers are the formidable Atago-class. At 10,000 tons fully loaded and 528 feet long, the Atago destroyers weigh as much asJapan’s World War II era cruisers. The Atago class is an enhanced version of the earlier Kongo class of destroyers, equipped with six more vertical launch cells and a helicopter hangar. Inspired by the U.S. Navy’s USS Arleigh Burke Flight IIA destroyers, they share many of the same sensors and armament.

The Atago class is, like the Burke class, a powerful jack of all trades. The destroyers are equipped with ninety-six Mk.41 vertical launch missile silos, each capable of holding a SM-2 surface to air missiles, SM-3 ballistic missile interceptors, or ASROC rocket-propelled torpedoes. Surface to surface armament consists of eight SSM-1B anti-ship missiles, while guns include one five inch gun and two Phalanx close-in weapons systems. Each Atago can engage submarines with an embarked SH-60J Seahawk helicopter, ASROC, and six deck-mounted Type 73 anti-submarine torpedoes.

Also like the Burke class, the Atagos were designed to excel at air and ballistic missile defense. The U.S.-designed Aegis Combat System makes it a potent air defense platform. Unlike their cousins the Kongo class destroyers, the Atagoclass was not outfitted from the outset engage ballistic missiles. This is being remedied with a software upgrade.

In response to China’s naval buildup and North Korea’s nuclear program, Japan is building two more Atago class destroyers. When complete, Japan will have eight Aegis destroyers capable of executing a ballistic missile defense mission. As the Aegis/SM-3 combination forms the top tier of Japan’s ballistic missile defense network, each destroyer is truly a guardian of the whole nation.

V-22 Osprey
Japanese marines have been training with the V-22 Osprey since 2013, when they practiced insertions with the U.S. Marine Corps. A sale has been rumored to be imminent. Last week the U.S. Department of Defense notified Congressof a possible sale 17 V-22 Osprey Block C tilt rotor aircraft to Japan.

The deal, a virtual certainty at this point, includes 40 Rolls-Royce engines and 80 pairs of night vision goggles and is worth an estimated $3 billion. It will be the Osprey’s first overseas sale.

China’s claim to and numerous confrontations over the Senkaku Islands necessitates a small, highly mobile force capable of quickly reinforcing or reclaiming the islands. The islands are too small or, in the case of inhabited islands, too thickly populated to support a sizable garrison.

The introduction of the Osprey into the Self Defense Forces represents a leap forward in Japan’s tactical airlift capabilities. The unique aircraft’s combination of cargo capacity, speed and range were major factors in Japan’s choosing. The Osprey can carry up to twenty-four troops to a distance of 492 miles. An Osprey could carry a full complement of Japanese marines to the disputed Senkaku Islands in approximately an hour and a half without refueling, something not possible with Japan’s CH-47 Chinook fleet.

The Ospreys will probably be based at Nagasaki, home of Japan’s new marine brigade. With tanker support, the Ospreys will be able to operate to the farthest reaches of Japan. Six KC-130 aerial tankers were purchased from the U.S. Marine Corps in 2012.

Japan’s Ospreys will also be capable of operating from amphibious ships and helicopter destroyers of the Maritime Self-Defense Force. The Osprey can take off and land from the Oosumi class tank landing ships and Hyuga and Izumo class helicopter destroyers.

F-35 Joint Strike Fighter
In 2011, Japan picked the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter over the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Boeing Super Hornet as its next generation fighter. Japan will purchase 42 F-35A fighters, the conventional takeoff and landing version designed for land-based air forces.

The F-35 will be Japan’s first stealth fighter and first fifth generation fighter. Recent developments in China, which is currently developing both the J-20 and J-31 fighters, made acquiring a fifth generation fighter a priority. The air to air and air to ground capabilities of the F-35 make it an ideal replacement for the F-4J Phantom, the last of which were recently withdrawn from service.

Lockheed Martin will manufacture the first four Japanese F-35As in the United States. Delivery is scheduled for the spring of 2018. The remaining 38 jets will be assembled at a final assembly and check out facility in Nagoya. Mitsubishi Electric, IHI, and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries will all fabricateengine and radar parts for the F-35A.

Japan is rumored to be looking at a second buy of F-35 fighters. The first batch of 42 fighters is not enough to replace the F-4J Phantom on a 1:1 basis, and the Air Self Defense Force’s F-15J Eagle fleet is flying into its fourth decade. Japan might even decide to put fixed-wing fighters on its Izumo-class helicopter destroyers and thus purchase a handful of the vertical takeoff and landing F-35B. Eventually, Japan may buy as many as a hundred F-35s.

Japan will serve as one of two regional maintenance and upgrade hubs for the F-35. Japan will offer F-35 heavy airframe maintenance, repair, overhaul and upgrade capabilities by 2018, with engine heavy maintenance capability expected in the 2021-2023 time frame.
Recommended: 
5 Chinese Weapons of War Japan Should Fear





While China's rising military might gets all the press, Japan's Self-Defense forces pack quite a punch.
Five Japanese Weapons of War China Should Fear
While China's rising military might gets all the press, Japan's Self-Defense forces pack quite a punch.
Kyle Mizokami

Editor's Note: Please also see Kyle's recent articles including Five Chinese Weapons of War America Should Fear and The Five Most-Powerful Navies on the Planet.

Sino-Japanese relations have been deteriorating since 2010. What started as a dust-up over a Chinese fisherman arrested for fishing in Japanese waters has escalated into a series of unpleasant incidents between the two countries, mostly in and around the uninhabited, and largely unappealing Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands in China.)

For now, incidents have largely been restricted to demonstrations by the coast guards of both sides and military aircraft encounters. Yet with each year, relations between China and Japan have steadily deteriorated. Unchecked, someday what may seem like routine unpleasantness could spiral into military action. Listed below for your consideration are five Japanese weapons of war that Beijing should think carefully about if the unthinkable ever occurred:

Soryu-class Diesel Electric Submarines
Japan’s Soryu-class submarines are some of the most advanced non-nuclear attack submarines in the world. Displacing 4,100 tons submerged, the subs can make 13 knots on the surface and up to 20 knots submerged. Four Stirling air independent propulsion systems allow the Soryu class to remain underwater far longer than most diesel electric submarines.

The Soryu class is armed with six bow-mounted torpedo tubes, with a total of 20 Type 89 high-speed homing torpedoes and American-made Sub-Harpoon missiles. Japan’s submarines could also be the delivery vehicles for cruise missiles, should the concept of preemptive strikes, currently being debated in Japanese politics, become a reality.

There are currently eight Soryu-class submarines, with more under construction. In response to increased tensions with China and a growing People’s Liberation Army Navy submarine fleet, in 2010 Japan decided to increase its own submarine force from 16 to 22.

Japan’s postwar submarine doctrine concentrates submarines at a number of key invasion routes to Japan: the Tsugaru Strait, Tsushima Strait, Kanmon Strait, and the Soya Strait. This concentration is a Cold War holdover, from when Japan expected that Soviet Union might invade during wartime. A more China-centric deployment plan, especially with the Senkakus and Ryukyu islands in mind, could see more forward deployments into the East China Sea and Sea of Japan.

Japan’s submarine fleet is particularly worrisome to China because of Beijing’s traditional weakness in anti-submarine warfare (ASW). China has not practiced ASW in wartime and has been institutionally deficient in both skills and assets. Japan, on the other hand, has operated submarines for many decades. Japanese submarine crews are reportedly well trained, on par with their American counterparts.

F-15J Fighters
Next up is the cream of Japan’s fighter force, the Air Self Defense Force’s F-15J air superiority fighter. The twin-engined F-15J is the Japanese version of the American F-15 Eagle, with minor differences and manufactured domestically by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

The F-15J is armed with the AAM-5 infrared homing missile, similar to the American Sidewinder missile, which it replaced. Complementing it will be the AAM-4B, a medium-ranged radar-guided missile and one of the few missiles in the world with an active-array radar seeker. Active-array radar missiles, of which China has none, dramatically increase both the range and the lock-on capability of radar-guided missiles, giving the F-15J a distinct advantage over Chinese adversaries.

More than 200 F-15Js have been built. In order to keep these 30+ year old planes competitive against the new generation of Chinese fighters, a dozen a year are upgraded with new electronic countermeasures (the Mitsubishi Integrated Electronic Warfare System), forward looking infrared and infrared search and track capability.

The F-15J is the front line of Japan’s military response to foreign military forces. In 2013, the ASDF performed 567 air intercepts of foreign aircraft approaching Japanese airspace, a new record. The single squadron of 20 F-15Js stationed on Okinawa covering the Senkaku and Ryukyu islands will be reinforced with another squadron, and the possibility of stationing a small detachment on the island of Yonaguni is being studied.

Although an aging design, the F-15J still represents a formidable challenge to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), and after more than three decades of service is still arguably the equal of any operational Chinese fighter. Worldwide, the F-15 has a reputation as a particularly deadly fighter, with 104 aircraft kills and zero losses.

Atago-Class Guided Missile Destroyers
The two destroyers of the Atago class are Japan’s most capable surface combatants, floating arsenals designed to take on a variety of missions. At 10,000 tons fully loaded, the Atago destroyers weigh as much as Japan’s World War II era cruisers. The U.S.-designed Aegis radar system makes it a potent mobile air defense platform, capable of shooting down aircraft and ballistic missiles.

Atago-class destroyers are equipped with 96 Mk.41 vertical launch missile silos, each capable of holding a single SM-2 surface to air missile, SM-3 ballistic missile interceptors, or ASROC anti-submarine rockets. Anti-ship armament consists of eight SSM-1B anti-ship missiles, roughly equivalent to the American Harpoon missile, while gun armament is in the form of one five inch gun and two Phalanx close-in weapons systems. Finally, each Atago can engage submarines with a SH-60 Seahawk helicopter and six deck-mounted Type 73 anti-submarine torpedoes.

The Atago class is an enhanced version of the earlier Kongo class of destroyers, equipped with six more vertical launch cells and a helicopter hangar. Both classes feature the Aegis air defense radar system, however the Atagos were not initially equipped with the Aegis ballistic missile defense upgrade. In light of the North Korean and Chinese ballistic missile threat, two more of the Atago class will be constructed, and all four ships will receive the ballistic missile software upgrade. This will give Japan a total of eight destroyers capable of engaging ballistic missiles.

The Atago class, once upgraded, will represent a formidable air defense platform. In a wartime scenario China could be expected to launch barrages of short and medium range ballistic missiles against Japanese and American ships, air bases, and military facilities. Japan’s Aegis fleet would form a barrier against these attacks. A screen of Atago destroyers could also form a potent anti-aircraft defense over the Senkaku and Ryukyu islands. Armed with SM-2 Block IIIB anti-aircraft missiles with a range of 90 nautical miles, a single Atago can dominate 565 square nautical miles of airspace.

Izumo-Class “Multipurpose Vessels”
At 27,000 tons fully loaded and more than 800 feet long, the Izumo-class helicopter destroyers are the largest naval vessels constructed by postwar Japan. Officially a “helicopter carrier-type escort/destroyer,” Izumo was built at the Japan Marine United shipyards at Yokohama and is scheduled to join the fleet in March 2015. Two Izumo destroyers will be built, with the second ship not yet named.

The Izumo class, like the previous, smaller Hyuga class, bear a strong resemblance to aircraft carriers. Izumo is touted by the JMSDF as a multi-purpose vessel. With a full length flight deck and hangar, each Izumo can accommodate and service up to 14 helicopters. Armed with SH-60 anti-submarine helicopters, each Izumo could sweep a large area of water for submarines.

Japan’s new helicopter destroyers can be used in the amphibious role. During the 2013 US-Japan Dawn Blitz exercises JS Hyuga acted as an airfield at sea for CH-47 Chinook transport and AH-64 Apache attack helicopters of the Ground Self Defense Forces. In a pinch, Izumo could carry a battalion’s worth of troops from the 1st Airborne Brigade or Western Army Infantry Regiment and transport them to shore via helicopter.

Finally, it has been speculated that Japan could order a second batch of F-35 fighter bombers, this time the B model adopted by the U.S. Marines and Royal Navy, and operate them off its new “helicopter destroyers.” The F-35B could operate off the Izumo—and even Hyuga—destroyers, but there would have to be extensive modifications, including support for fixed-wing aircraft and hardening of the flight deck to withstand high temperatures generated in vertical takeoff and landing. It would be an expensive and politically risky move just to put a handful of aircraft at sea, but if Japan believed it is necessary for defense of the Senkaku and Ryukyu islands area, it could happen.

China fears the Izumo class because it is a versatile platform. As an ASW platform, it could sweep and clear vast areas of Chinese submarines. As an amphibious platform, it provides the capability for Japan to place troops on the ground on remote islands. And as an ad-hoc aircraft carrier, it could place a handful of stealthy 5th fifth generation fighter-bombers on a mobile platform in the East China Sea.

The United States Military
The presence of someone else’s military on this list may strike some as unusual, but let’s face it: the Treaty of Mutual Cooperation and Security Between Japan and the United States means Japan has the most powerful military in the world backing it up.

The entry of the U.S. into any Sino-Japanese conflict would be strictly conditional, of course. Japan would have to be the victim of armed attack and request American military assistance. But once it did and treaty conditions were adequately met, it would mean virtually the entire U.S. military machine, from the nuclear attack submarines at Guam to the B-2 bombers based in Missouri would be committed on behalf of Japan.

Such devotion to an ally is admirable, and the U.S.-Japan alliance has been one of the great successes of the postwar era. At the same time, the alliance was designed to resist the Soviet Union in an all-out war, not backstop Japan in a territorial dispute with China.

The entrance of the United States in a Sino-Japanese conflict would almost certainly result in a great power war. A conflict between the United States and China would dwarf any spat between Japan and China, have staggering global economic consequences, and involve two nuclear powers. As long as Japan’s territorial disputes fester and Japan insists on limiting defense spending to a mere one percent of GDP, the possibility that the United States could be pulled into a local crisis that escalates into a major war is very real.

 



5 Weapons of War Japan Needs Immediately
Kyle Mizokami
http://nationalinterest.org/feature/5-weapons-war-japan-needs-immediately-12259?page=2


Recent events in Northeast Asia have propelled Japan’s neighborhood from a security backwater to one of the world’s most dangerous flashpoints. The rise of China and Russia’s muscular posturing has exposed Japan’s security establishment as dangerously complacent.


Since the end of the Cold War, Japan’s security structure has been largely unchanged. The Defense Agency was uplifted to full ministerial status, and a layered missile defense was erected to counter North Korean ballistic missiles, but by and large the posture and composition of Japan’s Self Defense Forces was preserved.

Caught flat footed by Chinese assertiveness in the East China Sea and Russian military flights near its borders, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has implemented a raft of security improvements, from secrecy laws to the creation of a national security council modeled off the one that serves the U.S. President.

An anemic economy has kept Japan’s defense spending flat or falling for two decades. According to a study by the Mizuho Bank, the Ministry of Defense’s acquisition budget fell 38 percent between 1990 and 2013. The number is roughly proportional to the amount of GDP the Japanese economy has lost during the same period.

If Japan’s self-defense forces are to properly counter modern threats, they will need the right tools to do the job. Here are five weapons that Japan needs immediately.

Aegis Ashore
The land-based equivalent of the Aegis Combat System, Aegis Ashore was developed for deployment to Eastern Europe as part of a regional ballistic missile shield. Combining the advanced SPY-1D radar with surface to air missiles, Aegis Ashore can dominate airspace within hundreds of miles of its deployment site.

Japan has expressed interest in Aegis Ashore, fearing that its current fleet of six ballistic missile-defense capable Aegis destroyers could not stand up to a sustained barrage of theater ballistic missiles, of which both China and North Korea have large inventories of.

Japan would use Aegis Ashore to protect major population centers, particularly those in the Kanto, Kansai, Chugoku and Kyushu regions. The combination of the SPY-1D radar with SM-3 Block IB ballistic missile interceptors would be just as effective as Japan’s destroyers, with the added bonus of being able to station more missiles on land. This would solve the “sustained barrage” dilemma.

Patriot PAC-3 surface to air missiles would continue to provide a second layer defending specific cities and critical military and civilian infrastructure.

Another more creative use for Aegis Ashore would be to deploy it in the Ryukyu Islands, where they would be able to watch over the nearby Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands to the Chinese.) This would give Japan the ability to close the airspace over the islands whenever it wished, and make it very dangerous for China to use military aircraft to push its territorial claims.

Marines
Since the Second World War, Japan has had a self-imposed ban on so-called “marines,” amphibious-trained infantry capable of conducting landings by air and sea. Marines have long been considered offensive weapons and thus against the spirit of Japan’s pacifist constitution.

The ban has always been a policy matter, however, and Japan’s government has decided that marines trained to quickly garrison territory or take it back from an enemy are allowable. Such marines are considered defensive in nature.

Starting in the early 2000s, the Ground Self Defense Forces began exercising with the United States Marine Corps in the biennial “Iron Fist” amphibious training exercises. The exercises, held at Camp Pendleton, California, have trained a nucleus of Japanese ground troops in amphibious operations.

Japan has announced the creation of a marine brigade, built around the battalion-sized Western Army Infantry Regiment. The brigade is to be stationed in Sasebo, Nagasaki, where it will be co-located with sealift provided by the Maritime Self Defense Force.

A second amphibious brigade, based farther north on the island of Hokkaido, would expand Japan’s capability to respond to crises. As the deaths of Japanese hostages in Algeria in 2013 and Syria in 2015 demonstrate, Japan needs the ability to protect its citizens abroad. A battalion-sized force modeled on the U.S. Marine Corps’ Marine Expeditionary Unit would give Japan the ability to evacuate civilians from conflict zones.

More Sealift
Long before the creation of the new Japanese marines, the MSDF built three Osumi-class landing ship, tank vessels (LSTs). Displacing around 14,000 tons fully loaded, each is capable of carrying approximately 300 troops, 10 main battle tanks, and two landing hovercraft.

Now that Japan actually has dedicated amphibious troops, it is time for a real “gator” fleet to carry them. A force of three landing helicopter dock (LHD) ships similar to the American Wasp and Australian Canberra-class as well as three LSTs to replace the Osumi-class would give Japan the ability to put an marine battalion at sea at any given time.

An LHD-type ship, incorporating a full-length flight deck, hangar and well deck is easily within Japan’s shipbuilding expertise — such a ship would merely be a melding of the existing Izumo class helicopter destroyer and the Osumi-class.

The LHD design would almost certainly embark a detachment of Japan’s V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft, giving it the ability to land troops by air. A large enough design could even, like the Wasp class, embark a small number of F-35B Joint Strike Fighters.

Backing up the LHD ships would be an LST design capable of carryingJapanese AAV-7A1 amphibious assault vehicles in the well deck, the first of an anticipated 52 of which have already arrived in Japan. The LST could also carry a range of heavier vehicles to shore via hovercraft, including the Type 89 infantry fighting vehicle and the Type 10 main battle tank.

Like an American Amphibious Ready Group, a Japanese ARG would be a “Swiss army knife” for Japanese policymakers, capable of conducting a wide range of missions. It could be used to defend the Senkaku Islands, conduct presence missions in the Ryukyus, engage in peacekeeping and stability operations across Asia and the Pacific, and participate in humanitarian assistance/disaster relief missions in the wake of regional disasters.

Littoral Combat Ships
The People’s Liberation Army Navy — much to Japan’s irritation — has made a point in recent years of sending naval task forces through the Miyako Strait—a passage in the Ryukyu chain between Miyako Island and Okinawa.

The Miyako Strait very important to the PLAN as it is the most direct route for ships from the Northern Sea Fleet, based in Qingdao, and the East Sea Fleet, based in Ningbo, to the open waters of the western Pacific.

Despite Japan’s peacetime irritation, the fact that Japan owns both sides of the strait gives it a strong defensive position. In the event of war, Japan could close the Miyako Strait to the PLAN with a combination of attack submarines and small surface combatants.

A small, stealthy surface combatant, utilizing stealth and the numerous islands of the Senkaku and Ryukyu Island chains to mask its position, could lay mines and execute ambushes on its own and in concert with Japanese submarines and fixed wing aircraft.

A small, highly organized force of such combatants would confer a high level of uncertainty to any Chinese admiral attempting to force the strait in wartime. An example of the type of ship is the Swedish Visby-class corvette. Displacing a mere 640 tons, each Visby carries one 57mm gun, eight RBS-15 anti-ship missiles, four torpedoes, depth charges and mines.

Fighter Upgrades'
Front-line air superiority fighters are something that Japan doesn’t skimp on. There’s a good reason for this: during World War II, once air superiority was lost over the Home Islands, Japan’s cities burned to the ground.

Japan purchased roughly 200 F-15J and two-seater DJ fighters during the 1980s. It expected to replace them in the 2000s with the F-22 Raptor. Unfortunately for Japan, the so-called Obey Amendment passed by the American Congress in 1998 prohibits the export of the F-22 abroad.

This has left Japan with a force of aging F-15J Eagles and no immediate prospect for replacing them. The upcoming ATD-X could provide a suitable replacement fighter in the long term but is still in the technology demonstration phase. In the meantime, Japan has embarked on a series of upgrades of its fighter fleet.

The F-15J upgrade program includes enhancing the F-15J’s electronic countermeasures with the Mitsubishi Integrated Electronic Warfare System, forward-looking infrared, and infrared search and track targeting systems.

The upgraded F-15Js will also carry the new AAM-4B air to air missile, Japan’s replacement for the AIM-7 Sparrow and one of the few missiles of its kind to have an active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar seeker.

Japan’s fleet of indigenous F-2 fighters is receiving even more substantial upgrades to their air-to-air capability in the form of nose-mounted AESA radars. F-2s are also being upgraded to carry the AAM-4B and JDAM GPS-guided bombs.