Washington claims China is rapidly expanding its military might, posing a threat to the US and its allies in the Asia Pacific region. Beijing is one of the focal points of America's national security plan that was unveiled in January, singled out along with Russia. The US military brass hats have raised the alarm over China’s recent defense budget hike, despite the fact that its per capita defense spending is lower than that of other major world powers. They say China is not transparent enough and that this further complicates the problem.
Transparency is a good thing but it may not reveal the whole picture. One may appear to be open and above-board but still be hiding one’s real plans and intentions. For instance, Japan is ranked among the world’s ten most peaceful nations. Threatened by N. Korea and China, it appears to be an innocent victim looking to the US for protection.
That’s one side of the coin. But there is also another side.
The Japanese constitution forbids offensive weapons.
Aircraft carriers are generally considered to belong to this category, and for this reason they are called “helicopter destroyers” in Japan. For instance, the Izumo-class air-capable destroyers are as big as British Invincible-class aircraft carriers. The warships can be modernized to turn them into real flat tops and that’s exactly what the Japanese government plans to do. Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said on March 2 that the military is considering the possibility of deploying US-made F-35B short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) fighters on the helicopter carriers. China has already expressed its concern over the plan.
The F-35 Lightning II supersonic stealth aircraft can be easily configured to carry nukes. Arming the air-capable warships of a non-nuclear state with nuclear-capable aircraft constitutes a violation of the NPT Treaty, which prohibits nuclear states from transferring nukes to other recipients. It also bans non-nuclear states from acquiring them.
The first land-based nuclear-capable F-35A variant fighter was delivered to Japan in late February. US military instructors would train Japanese military personnel to operate this offensive weapon. South Korea also plans to follow Japan’s example and put American aircraft on its aviation-capable ships. That’s how the policy of nonproliferation slowly begins to crumble.
Japan uses Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions to justify its plans to acquire US-made Tomahawk sea-based cruise missiles – another weapon that could potentially be nuclear tipped. The plans also include the acquisition of JASSM-ER and LRASM missiles, each of which has a range of roughly 900 km (559 mi). These are not defensive weapons.
Last year, US President Trump said at a joint press conference with Japanese PM Abe that “Japan is going to be purchasing massive amounts of military equipment.”
Tokyo is also looking into developing its own standoff cruise missile that can be launched from ships, aircraft, and land launchers to strike ground and sea targets. Any new long-range cruise missile could be integrated with Aegis Mk-41 launchers. It’s almost certain that ground-based Aegis Ashore systems will be at least partially operated by US military personnel. So, a medium-range missile with nuclear capability and operated by American servicemen will be deployed near Russia’s and China’s borders. Is this not a cause for legitimate concern?
The 2,100-member Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade is expected to be operational this month, enabling first-strike capability. The Japanese military already has amphibious assault ships as well unmanned aerial vehicles to support such operations.
Plans are underway to build a three-tier missile defense. The Japanese government decided to acquire US Aegis Ashore systems, in order to join the American global BMD effort. The Aegis Mk-41 launcher can fire long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles that could be nuclear tipped.
Japan is to establish a space and cyberspace command center that will also be responsible for electronic warfare. The unit is already operational and will expand by about 40%, bringing it up to 150 members, in FY 2018, which starts on April 1. That command center has confirmed Japan’s intention to extend its military operations into space. A network of radar for monitoring space is expected to be operational in FY 2022.
Japan possesses almost 47 tons of separated plutonium. That’s enough to produce 6,000 nuclear devices. The idea of going nuclear has not been abandoned and it even enjoys support from the US. Sharing nuclear capability is an option.Japan’s Epsilon rocket that is used for its civilian space program could be used as an intercontinental nuclear-delivery vehicle with a range of 12,000 km. Experts believe the conversion would take less than a year, including the acquisition of a multiple independent reentry vehicle. There are no technical obstacles.
North Korea's nuclear program is being adroitly used by Tokyo as a pretext for militarization that will threaten Russia and China. While the global media “cry wolf” over Iran's and N. Korea’s nuclear programs, they are surprisingly quiet when it comes to nuclear capability Japan could acquire in just one year. Tokyo is also clearly well on its way to boosting its conventional capabilities—thus changing the balance of power in the Asia Pacific. This is not a high-profile issue. But it should be.