Quietly, a small historic event took place in the South China Sea in mid-November – for the first time in this area, the newest Japanese attack submarine of the Soryu (Blue Dragon) class conducted joint exercises with the US Navy. After 1945, the submarines of the Land of the Rising Sun were not sent on such long voyages for practical combat training – so as not to irritate neighboring countries. However, now it has apparently been decided to forget about these conventions, since Washington and Tokyo intend to intensify preparations for possible military conflicts in the waters of the South China Sea, for example, in the Taiwan zone.
In addition to the newest submarine, which is distinguished by increased noiselessness and the duration of autonomous navigation, the Japanese helicopter carrier Kaga, which is expected to be soon converted into a light aircraft carrier and will take on the deck a dozen fifth-generation multipurpose combat aircraft F-35B with a shortened takeoff and vertical landing. His joint training with an American missile destroyer and a Japanese submarine was clearly aimed at practicing actions to break a possible blockade of Taiwan by the PRC armed forces in the event of an aggravation of the situation.
Taiwan at gunpoint?
Beijing says it will make every effort to peacefully annex this island, where in 1949 the supporters of the Kuomintang party of Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, who lost in the civil war against the communists of Mao Zedong, took refuge. However, the PRC warns that it is ready, if necessary, to use military force against the Taiwanese separatists.
In a report published on November 17, one of the research services of the US Congress claims that the PRC already has or is very close to acquiring the potential for a successful operation against the island. According to the calculations of the Taiwan military department, China will be ready for this by 2025.
Washington regards such a prospect as a serious threat, since it has repeatedly reaffirmed its intention to defend the island and supply it with weapons. Concerned about the situation in Tokyo – the remote Japanese islands of the southernmost prefecture of Okinawa are directly adjacent to Taiwan. In the event of a conflict, they will find themselves in a war zone. Many Japanese experts are sounding the alarm, noting that an effective blockade and landing in Taiwan is impossible without the occupation of the Japanese territories adjacent to it.
The report of the US Congressional Research Service emphasizes that for the successful conduct of hostilities in this area, Washington absolutely needs the involvement of the Japanese armed forces. The document gives a very flattering assessment to the level of their training and equipment.
Tokyo considers itself vulnerable
The Japanese government does not openly declare its readiness to join the battle for Taiwan, however, Tokyo constantly reiterates the need to strengthen the country’s military potential, taking into account the threat of conflict not only with China, but also with the DPRK.
This year, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party of Japan openly pointed out the need to effectively double the country’s military spending and bring it to at least 2% of the gross domestic product. The so-called mobile amphibious forces (analogous to the American marines) have been created and are being intensively trained, which are designed to conduct operations primarily in the Taiwan zone. On outlying islands in the area, surface-to-ship missile systems are being deployed to target the Chinese navy. For operations in the zone of potential conflict, the Japanese Navy will soon receive two light aircraft carriers; more than a hundred of the latest F-35 aircraft of various modifications are being purchased from the United States.
However, Tokyo feels vulnerable: Japanese experts warn that the country’s missile defense system is not keeping pace with the progress in the development of the military potential of China and the DPRK. It is unable, for example, to intercept China’s long-range cruise missiles or shield the country from a massive ballistic missile attack, let alone the hypersonic systems recently tested by Beijing. The Japanese missile defense system is also powerless against the newest missiles of Pyongyang, which have an extremely low flight trajectory and change it before hitting the target.
Where to get long-range missiles?
Tokyo is currently reviewing its National Security Strategy to determine ways to rearm the country. In the course of the discussions, voices are heard louder and louder that the best form of defense will not be to patch up holes in the missile defense system at a cost, but to acquire the potential for crushing attacks on targets on enemy territory in case of emergency.
It is necessary to clarify: the existence of the current Japan Self-Defense Forces contradicts Article 9 of the country’s constitution, which proclaims the renunciation of military potential and the use of force or the threat of force to resolve international disputes. The rebuilding of the army and navy was explained by the fact that the UN Charter allows the right to defense, but Tokyo pledged not to acquire offensive weapons.
That promise has now been broken, as even light aircraft carriers clearly fall into a previously banned category. But Tokyo still lacks long-range weapons capable of striking its continental neighbors. In past years, it was decided to fill this gap by purchasing such missiles from the United States to equip combat aircraft, but the plan was abandoned – the media write that Washington had set the price too high.
American missiles in Japan?
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida constantly says that he intends to study the issue of the potential of an attack on bases on enemy territory, but decisions on this matter have not yet been made. The country’s military department is developing its development in the creation of long-range missiles and hypersonic gliding warheads. But again, there are no ready-made “products” of this kind.
The United States is proposing its own option – to deploy American cruise and ballistic missiles capable of threatening China in Japan. The need for this is also indicated in the previously mentioned report of the Congressional Research Service. Apparently, Washington will increasingly propose such plans to Tokyo, which will undoubtedly meet with opposition from the Japanese pacifist public. The prospect of the deployment of American missiles, moreover, is already expected to cause not only protests, but also retaliatory measures from China and Russia – this can become a major regional problem for a long time.
However, there are forces in Japan that are ready for such a development of events.
“Our territory has long hosted US combat aircraft capable of striking China and North Korea,” one of the country’s leading military experts, Yu Koizumi, told me. “The deployment of US ground-based missiles is fundamentally no different.”