After years of fretting over military buildups by China, North Korea and Russia, Japan has finally begun to make serious moves to augment its Self Defense Force. Last December Prime Minister Fumio Kishida announced his intention to double defense expenditures from 1% of GNP to 2%.
This raises various questions, among which would be, what sort of scenarios would be likely if China were to make moves toward incorporating its territorial claims in Taiwan and the Senkaku Islands?
Asahi Geino (Jan 26) picked the brains of several military analysts, asking for their opinions on how a conflict might develop.
If China moves military against Taiwan, a prime concern is that Japan would be drawn in.
"The Chinese would determine how far the front lines of such a conflict would be extend," remarked Sugio Takahashi, head of the Defense Policy Division at the National Institute for Defense Studies. "Of course it's possible China would only confine its attack to Taiwan, but in war, it is advantageous to attack preemptively. In other words, the possibility exists that in order to knock the U.S. military out of the fight, China would engage in preemptive air assaults against targets outside Taiwan, in Japan's southwest island chain and on Guam. Such attacks would not only be aimed at military targets, but also civilian airports with the potential for military use."
On January 12, Japan's Ministry of Defense announced it had begun construction of a new base on eight-square-kilometer Mageshima, an uninhabited island administered by Nishinoomote City on neighboring Tanegashima, Kagoshima Prefecture. Over the next four years, the island's two runways are to be upgraded to enable planes from U.S. Navy aircraft carriers to conduct touch-and-go training.
A news source added that guidelines also called for the posting of a missile detachment on the SDF base on Ishigaki island by the end of March.
"A U.S. Marine quick response unit on Okinawa will be reorganized and the GSDF 15th Brigade headquartered in Naha, Okinawa, will be augmented with the aim of establishing joint defense of other islands in the Ryukyu chain," the source added.
Plans call for the 15th Brigade's manpower to be boosted from its current level of 2,200 to 3,000.
"Naturally this is hoped to serve as a deterrent, but in the event of an actual war, the numbers are far too few, by a factor of 10," the source added. "It wouldn't have a chance of withstanding China's human wave tactics."
The aforementioned Takahashi pointed out that with its huge arsenal of missiles, China's strategy might not be limited to taking out military bases, seaports and airfields.
"China's objective would be to land troops and occupy Taiwan and the Senkakus," he said. "In other words, as long as these places can be defended against military occupation, China would not achieve a victory. To avoid a land war, Japan's best bet will be to adopt a "standoff strategy," which will require a large arsenal of long-distance missiles to counter seaborne invasions. And the SDF will also need to develop a unified command strategy for its land, sea and air forces."
Between 2023 to 2025, Japan plans to deploy an upgraded version of its Type 12 surface-to-ship missiles, whose range will be extended to between 900 to 1,200 km, compared with the previous type of only 200 km. In the short term it is procuring Tomahawk cruise missiles from the U.S.
Over the next five years, the government's mid-term defense infrastructure plan calls for outlays of over ¥43 trillion, which includes procurement of 500 Tomahawk cruise missiles from the U.S.
But Takahashi points out that even with the doubling of defense outlays, which would also include new fighter planes and Aegis-equipped destroyers, expenditures that provide Japan with a "counterattack capability" only account for one-tenth of the total budget.
"At present, China's air and sea military capability is around 70% that of the U.S.," Takahashi tells Asahi Geino. "However, American forces are deployed around the world and in East Asia the balance is tilted in China's favor by a ratio of 7 to 5. So if Japan can supplement the U.S. with the remaining 2, the ratio would achieve parity at 7 to 7.
"Wars typically begin with the anticipation of victory," Takahashi added. "Vladimir Putin ordered the attack on Ukraine wrongly believing the latter would collapse in three days. If China can be made to believe it won't win, war can be prevented. So that in itself serves as a deterrent."
In the upcoming Diet session, Asahi Geino concludes, much will depend on Kishida's ability to justify his proposed tax increase in order to boost Japan's defense expenditures.© Japan Today