Japan Adds Spy Bases To Watch China
By WENDELL MINNICK
TAIPEI — Japan is building signals intelligence (SIGINT) stations along the Ryukyu Island chain to monitor Chinese naval and maritime activities.
“China’s military expansion is conspicuous, and the military balance is changing in the East China Sea,” said Sumihiko Kawamura, a retired rear admiral who is deputy director of the Okazaki Institute, Tokyo. “China has been ramping up moves to expand its maritime interests, thereby intensifying friction with Japan.” The interlocking facilities will provide the country’s military with both communications intelligence (COMINT) and electronic intelligence (ELINT) capabilities.
China has intensified posturing over its territorial claims in the area, said Peter Woolley, a Japan defense specialist. Actions include overflights by Chinese surveillance aircraft and maritime intrusions by the Chinese Navy and “rogue fishing vessels,” he said.
“There is bound to be friction over China’s reach,” Woolley said. “It’s just a question of when” China finally goes too far.
Tokyo was rattled earlier this month when 11 Chinese naval vessels passed between the islands of Okinawa and Miyako-jima. Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa said there was “serious concern” over the incident.
“Our country’s policy is to keep monitoring Chinese naval vessels ... and gathering information,” Kitazawa told reporters June 10.
Kawamura, the retired admiral, said Japanese fighter jets were scrambled 96 times last year, two and a half times more than in 2009. “On March 2, Japanese air force interceptors were scrambled after two Chinese Y-8 surveillance aircraft were spotted flying over the East China Sea toward the Nansei Islands [Ryukyu Islands] and approaching a point about 50 kilometers from Japanese airspace,” he said.
Tokyo began paying attention to the problem in 2000, when it ordered the military to begin expanding its SIGINT facilities on remote isolated islands on its southern flank. Of paramount concern was the possibility that China might attempt to occupy the Japanesecontrolled Senkaku Islands, which the Chinese call the Diaoyutai Islands. Taiwan also claims the islands.
Masashi Nishihara, the president of the Research Institute for Peace and Security, Tokyo, said Japan’s six-month-old National Defense Program Guidelines underlined the need for new SIGINT bases, stressing the importance of the defense of remote islands.
Japan’s new Mid-Term Defense Program, which covers 2011 to 2015, also includes the construction of new SIGINT and ELINT stations at existing air force radar stations on Seburi-yama Mountain on Kyushu Island, Fukue-jima Island and Miyako-jima Island, Kawamura said.
“These sites are favorably situated to check the military activities of China and North Korea in the East China Sea,” he said.
A Western SIGINT specialist identified the location of several of the new facilities, including an ocean surveillance site on Yonaguni Island, at the southern tip of the Ryukyu chain. This site is to be completed next year. The Yonaguni facility will be networked with other SIGINT and ELINT bases running north along the Ryukyus toward mainland Japan. Yonaguni sits 100 kilometers from Taiwan’s northeast coast, between the East China Sea and the Pacific Ocean, and 150 kilometers south of the Senkaku Islands.
This facility will work with a J/FLR-4 facility on Miyako-jima Island, 200 kilometers east of the Senkaku Islands. The Miyako-jima facility is “critically important as a forward SIGINT/ELINT station to check” Chinese naval deployment in the Pacific Ocean, Kawamura said. The J/FLR-4, activated in 2009, is a panoramic very-high-frequency (VHF), ultrahigh-frequency and super-high-frequency intercept system, the SIGINT specialist said.
To the north of Okinawa is a SIGINT and COMINT station on Kikaijima Island. In operation since 2006, it consists of a large indigenously designed, circularly disposed antenna array for VHF and high-frequency direction finding, the Western SIGINT analyst said.
Japan also has been concerned about naval movements near the waters separating southern mainland Japan and South Korea. In 2007, a J/FLR-4 station became operational on Seburi-yama Mountain.
Another J/FLR-4 base is under construction on Fukue-jima and is expected to become operational next year, the analyst said.