According to CNN, for the first time since World War II, Japan is seeking to bolster its military capabilities by purchasing long-range missiles. The move is a response to what it sees as an escalating national security crisis, according to Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera.
“We will implement stand-off missiles capable of defending ourselves adequately…in order to ensure the safety of the Self Defense Force and to defend our nation effectively,” Onodera told reporters.
Japan plans to purchase two types of missiles from Lockheed Martin, which it will deploy on F-15 fighter jets: Long Range Anti-Ship Missiles and Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles. In addition, it will purchase Joint Strike Missiles from Kongsberg, a Norwegian company, to deploy on F-35 stealth fighter jets, which are themselves a new addition to the Japan Air Self Defense Force fleet. The missiles give Japan a strike range of up to 1,000 km (621 miles). Currently, the longest-range missiles Japan owns have a range of only 300 km (186 miles).
The plans were announced a month after U.S. President Donald Trump suggested Japan buy its own military equipment while he was there on a state visit.
Onodera did not specifically mention North Korea in his announcement, but the decision was made in the context of Pyongyang’s publicly attempting to mount a nuclear warhead on a long-range ballistic missile, which is raising concern internationally – but especially in Japan. Under North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, two missiles have been test-fired over Japan this year. Although the United Nations subsequently levied heavy sanctions against North Korea, Japan remains vulnerable to North Korean aggression.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was re-elected in a landslide this past October, based much of his platform on taking a firm stance against North Korean aggression. He has pushed to ease the military restrictions under which Japan operates, introducing a number of new laws that will allow a broader interpretation of what is permissible, militarily, under the Japanese Constitution.
In the past, Japan has limited its military to self-defense, due to restrictions imposed after World War II, in which Japan was the primary aggressor in the Pacific Theater. Although Mr. Onodera assured critics that the new missiles were strictly defensive, and that Japan would continue to rely on the United States if it were necessary to initiate a strike, the move remains controversial, particularly in Beijing. The missiles do give Japan first-strike capability not only to North Korea, but to all of its neighbors, including China, which suffered severely under Japanese aggression in World War II.
“As we rush to respond to North Korea’s advancements, almost nobody is thinking about the long-term implications for regional stability. These new capabilities will exacerbate China’s worry that it is being encircled,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, in an email to CNN. “The developments will surely cause new tensions with China,” Mount said.