Japan Deploys Aegis Ashore, Becoming a Link in the US Global Missile Defense
Andrei AKULOV | 02.08.2018 | SECURITY / DEFENSE

Japan Deploys Aegis Ashore, Becoming a Link in the US Global Missile Defense

On July 30, Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera announced a plan to deploy the Aegis Ashore missile-defense system by 2023. The military training grounds in the Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures are prospective sites.  This decision is a “big-ticket purchase” that could also help Tokyo smooth trade friction with Washington, amidst the Trump administration’s threats to hit Japan’s auto imports with new tariffs.  Reuters cited Japanese media reports that have put the cost of the two sites, which will include the Aegis air-defense system, missile launchers, and interceptors, at around $6 billion. Japan has chosen the Lockheed Martin Corp’s SSR radar, with a far greater range than the Aegis radars currently operated by the US Navy. Officially, the move is being justified by pointing to the threat from North Korea.

Japan has purchased F-35 fighter aircraft, V-22 Osprey tilt rotor aircraft, and AAV-7 amphibious vehicles, which will ensure a steady paycheck for US defense contractors. In fiscal 2021, Japan will fly the US-made RQ-4 Global Hawk unmanned reconnaissance aircraft to monitor security situations, including military moves by Russia, China, and North Korea. It will be based at the Misawa Air Base in the Aomori Prefecture, close to Russia’s shores.

Japan currently operates four destroyers equipped with US Aegis missile-defense systems carrying SM-3 intercept missiles capable of intercepting a ballistic missile at altitudes above 310 miles. There are plans to build four more missile-defense-capable ships by the early 2020s. Two Atago-class destroyers are being modified to operate the Aegis, and there are plans to add one of those to the arsenal later this year.  Aegis-equipped ships in and around Japan, as well as Patriot batteries, offer another layer of defense.

It’s important to build and maintain an infrastructure that will serve as a basis for further enhancement of one’s operational capabilities. The introduction of the land-based Aegis will inevitably entail the acquisition of extensive supporting systems.  With the new type of SM3 Block 2A missile, boasting almost three times the range of the SM3, the country’s missile defense will be significantly strengthened, posing a threat to Russia’s and China’s strategic nuclear potentials. In its tests, the Aegis has also proven effective against low-flying satellites, making it an element of space warfare.

The Aegis can intercept intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) upon reentry. Based in Japan, they will be fitted with information-exchange systems enabling them to operate as a link in the US global ballistic missile-defense (BMD) system, by sending data to Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) based in Alaska and California. The invaluable cuing information sent to the American mainland facilities will significantly enhance the overall ability of the US military to intercept Russian and Chinese missiles. 

The foreign and defense ministers of Russia and Japan held 2+2 talks July 30-August 1. This was the third meeting in such a format, with the previous two taking place in 2013 and 2017. The planned Aegis deployment was a controversial issue.   

Russia views the deployment as a threat to its national security, dismissing Japan’s claims that the move is being made solely to counter Pyongyang’s nuclear program. Moscow believes this argument is no more than a pretext, and the Aegis Ashore deployment is a disproportionate response to the North Korean missile threat. Japan’s reassurances that the system would remain under its independent control ring hollow, as the US and Japan are both involved in an effort to create a global BMD system. Besides, there is no way to verify this claim. Japan is working with the United States to undermine Russia’s strategic deterrent and this fact cannot be denied. The US National Security Strategy states that Washington “will cooperate on missile defense with Japan and South Korea to move toward an area defense capability.”

The Aegis Ashore uses the same Mk-41 vertical launch systems as the US warships that are capable of launching intermediate-range cruise missiles. This makes Japan complicit in a violation of the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty.    

Putting US F-35Bs on Izumo-class “helicopter destroyers,” which are actually aircraft carriers, will also pose a threat to Russia. F-35s are nuclear-capable strike aircraft. Toyko will soon own 40 of the F-35A jets, with the first one — built right there in Japan — becoming operational in February.  There will be 10 of them by the end of the year stationed at Misawa Air Base. 

According to China Military, Japan could go nuclear “overnight” with its current stash of 47 tons of plutonium, enough for about 6,000 nuclear bombs. Minor modifications are enough to turn the Epsilon solid-fuel carrier rocket into a potential nuclear-tipped ICBM with a range of 12,000 kilometers. Japan’s 22 submarines can be modified to launch cruise missiles fitted with nuclear warheads, and Japan's F-15J military aircraft could become nuclear with some modification.

The Aegis Ashore deployment is a reality Russia cannot ignore. It will adapt its military planning accordingly. In January, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev signed an order authorizing the Ministry of Defense to station military aircraft at the civilian airport on Iturup (known in Japan as Etorofu) Island. Other steps will follow. This move will cloud the two countries’ bilateral relations and hinder any effort to reach an agreement on the Kuril Islands or a peace treaty.