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Japan Debates First Strike Idea

Japan ponders it's ballistic missile future.
by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Jul 24, 2006
North Korea's Taepodong-2 test launch on July 4 has triggered a profound debate about Japan's future. Following the test, a major Japanese newspaper reported what appeared to be a trial balloon for a major strategic debate about adopting a preemptive strike option for Japan's Self Defense Forces if the country is ever threatened with a nuclear ballistic missile strike.

"In the wake of North Korea's missile launches... government leaders argue that Japan should be granted powers to attack enemy missile bases," the Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper reported on July 14, ten days after North Korea made an unsuccessful attempt to test launch its Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile, and also test-fired six shorter range ones.

Over the past five years, Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has pushed through a profound redirection of the nation's grand strategy and even of its military-industrial structure's orientation. He has locked Japan's main industrial conglomerate corporations, led by Mitsubishi, into the development of high tech anti-ballistic missile defenses for the densely populated nation of 120 million people over the next decade, in the closest possible cooperation with U.S. defense contracting giants such as Lockheed Martin and Boeing.

But now, only two months before Koizumi is due to step down after five years as prime minister and leader of the ruling Liberal Democratic Party, the Japanese media are debating the possible need to abandon one of the most venerable aspects of Japan's national identity and strategic doctrine over the past 55 years: its commitment to abandoning any first strike or preemptive strike against any potential enemies.

"Discussions are necessary on this issue in light of the Constitution and international law," Yomiuri Shimbun staff writer Hidemichi Katsumata wrote in his paper's July 14 edition.

Katsumata suggested that U.S. tactical preemptive operations in wars over the past 15 years could serve as a model for Japan's future preemptive strike doctrines. This assessment appeared to reflect the thinking of Prime Minister Koizumi and of his favorite Self-Defense Agency senior analysts in Tokyo. They have been highly impressed by the success of preemptive U.S. tactical air strikes in America's wars over the past 15 years.

"As seen in U.S.-led military operations in the Gulf War in 1991 and major offenses in Iraq in 2003, the Self-Defense Forces could feasibly engage in air attacks on North Korea's missile bases and launch cruise missiles from the sea," Katsumata wrote.

"For such operations, the SDF would need refueling planes to extend the flying range of aircraft, precision-guided bombs guided by the Global Positioning System and Tomahawk cruise missiles," he wrote.

But Katsumata made it clear he was not just floating his own ideas, or even those of SDF analysts. Rather, he was reflecting major procurement and strategic decisions that the SDF, with the approval -- and probably following the prompting -- of Prime Minister Koizumi, had already made.

'The SDF plans to deploy its first tanker plane in March (2007) and three more later,' Katsumarta wrote. 'With such deployments, the operational ranges of the Air Self-Defense Force`s F-15 and F-2 fighter jets, which can be refueled in the air, would dramatically improve.'

Also, 'Installment of precision guidance devices in F-2 fighters` 250-kilogram air-to-surface bombs is already underway and actual deployment will be completed in two years,' he wrote. 'These systems have been introduced partly to defend remote islands, but could be used to attack enemy bases.'

Katsumata made clear that Japan`s Air Self Defense Forces, or ASDF, still lack the capabilities to suppress enemy air defense systems, without which surprise preemptive strikes would not be possible.

'In order to approach enemy bases, air defense systems need to be destroyed following the detection and disruption of radar waves transmitted by enemy forces,' he wrote. 'Many ASDF jets would otherwise fall prey to surface-to-air missiles. The ASDF currently lacks aircraft or weapons to meet such a demand.'

Katsumata quoted a senior ASDF official as telling him, 'If we were ordered to make a sortie, it would be just like launching suicide attacks.'

Even the purchase and deployment of U.S. Tomahawk cruise missiles as a preemptive strike capability against North Korea`s 800-mile range Rodong missiles would not solve the problem, Katsumata warned. In the 1991 Gulf War, 'Tomahawk missiles did not work well' against Iraqi President Saddam Hussein`s Scud missiles because 'Scuds are mobile missiles launched from large trailers.' The only effective technique that worked in that war, Katsumata wrote, was when 'special units of the British forces then landed in Iraq, searched out Iraqi missile launchers one-by-one and guided Tomahawk missiles onto targets from the ground.'

North Korea`s Rodong missiles are deployed on mobile launchers and many military facilities in that country are built underground, he wrote.

Also, 'Japan also does not have the ability to gather intelligence-using satellites, which (are) indispensable for launching attacks on enemy bases. The nation therefore cannot accurately locate key military facilities,' Katsumata wrote. Therefore, 'It would be costly and time-consuming for the nation to develop the capability to detect and attack enemy bases.'

Japan could not develop such a capability overnight. And its national will and available resources look likely to be fully preoccupied over the next few years with their immediate goal of developing ambitious ballistic missile defense capabilities with massive U.S. cooperation to protect the nation against future threats from North Korea -- and possibly even China.

But Katsumata`s article is especially worthy of note because it lays the very possibility of the long-taboo option of preemptive air and even ground special forces strikes against threatening missile deployments before the Japanese public. It may therefore prove to be the first word in a very important debate indeed.

Source: United Press International

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