Japan AF Expands Definition of ‘Defense’
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — The Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) is slowly moving away from its “defensive defense only” doctrine, say sources, and shifting to extend its defense perimeter in a way that could include offensive operations, such as pre-emptive strikes.
While this does not mean the JASDF will have a global reach, said Yoichiro Sato of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, Honolulu, the combination of fuel-efficient fighter aircraft, refueling tankers and increased training will expand the JASDF’s ability to respond to regional crises in the East China Sea.
Of particular concern is North Korea’s nuclear saber rattling, which has forced the JASDF to reexamine the once taboo subject of preemptive strikes against North Korean nuclear weapon and missile facilities.
“The JASDF’s primary mission is to defend Japan’s airspace against the threats such as strike aircraft, ballistic and cruise missiles,” said Sumihiko Kawamura, deputy director of The Okazaki Institute, Tokyo, and a retired admiral. However, the August 1998 test-firing of a North Korean Taepodong1 ballistic missile over Japan, and later missile tests near Japan, have contributed to a growing movement in Japan to rethink restrictions on the military, he said.
Article 9 of Japan’s Constitution limits the military’s ability to develop a means to project force beyond its territorial claims, but despite this the Japan Defense Agency was upgraded to a ministry, KC-767J air refueling tankers and E-767 Airborne Warning and Control Systems aircraft have been procured, and ballistic missile defense (BMD) has been created. However, the JASDF is still hobbled by budget and legal restrictions as the Air Force struggles to meet its commitments.
The legislation system is still a problem, said Naoki Akiyama, director of the Tokyobased National Security Research Group. “It is a major source of concern for the Air SelfDefense Force to solve this problem in pursuing modernization,” he said.
Kawamura said Japan’s BMD capabilities will not protect the country from North Korean missile threats, and that pre-emptive strikes are a long way off due to political opposition.
Because of “homeland defense oriented policies, which restrict offensive capabilities, it is politically sensitive to plan pre-emptive strike on enemy missile sites overseas,” Kawamura said, so “the JASDF has to focus on post-launch ballistic missile defense.” “Militarily, the best way to defend Japan from ballistic or cruise missile attacks is to destroy the missiles before they are launched.” For this reason, said Kawamura, Japan “theoretically needs to introduce stealthy strike aircraft capable of penetrating an enemy’s powerful air defense to strike missile sites before missiles are fired.”
Budget constraints and procurement schedules make it difficult for the JASDF to balance the budgets for the BMD program and the FX fighter procurement. The F-X program had hung its hopes on acquiring a fifth-generation fighter, such as the Lockheed F-22A Raptor, but U.S. export restrictions and high costs are forcing the JASDF to look elsewhere.
“At this time the shrinking Self-Defense Force budget is further eaten up by requirements of missile defense procurements. Japan’s ground-based Patriot missiles are operated by JASDF, not JGSDF,” or the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force, Sato said.
These factors and others will most likely delay the F-X program. “Thus, the MoD [Ministry of Defense] is likely to delay a decision on the F-X selection program by at least two years and to extend the service lives of 91 F-4EJ Phantoms, which are due to retire during the decade starting in 2010,” Kawamura said.
Other fighters being considered are the Eurofighter Typhoon, the Dassault Rafale, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet and the F15E. Plans for a fifth-generation fighter could be delayed till the next defense program in 2010-14 or later. There is talk of procuring the Lockheed F-35 Lightning, but it is unlikely to be available until after 2015 and Japan has so far turned down the option of joining the international F-35 partnership program.
Budget constraints have also hampered Air Force efforts to invest in UAVs.
“However, under the budget circumstances, the defense budget is not expected to increase in the foreseeable future, there are no concrete plans for UAVs within the JSDF at this point,” Kawamura said.