The ruling Liberal Democratic Party's Research Commission on Security on May 31 compiled a draft recommendation that Japan ramp up its capabilities to counter the North Korean nuclear and missile threat with the introduction of its own early warning satellites and the ability to strike enemy bases.
Japan currently relies on a U.S. early warning satellite that detects sources of heat to gain information on North Korean missile launches. The proposal presented at a meeting of security commission directors says that this affects Japan's readiness, as the nation is unable to give independently swift evaluations of launches.
To heighten the accuracy of ballistic missile defense, the commission in its draft proposed introducing early warning satellites and spy planes, among other options. Regarding the ability to strike enemy bases in response to an attack, the commission proposed that Japan possess cruise missiles.
There remain concerns, however, that if Japan possessed the ability to strike enemy bases, it would be a departure from the "exclusively defense-oriented policy" which is its basic stance.
With respect to ballistic missile defense, the commission draft requested that Japan introduce the land-based Aegis Ashore defense system including SM-3 missiles.
The draft additionally sought that Japan's Ministry of Defense possess the capability to conduct cyberattacks, but at the meeting of directors, it was pointed out that this could constitute use of force, and so the issue was left as one for future consideration.
The draft demands Japan approach areas it has been cautious about entering in the past in light of the division of roles between Japan and the United States under the Japan-U.S. Security Arrangements. While it sends a political message of standing firm against provocative acts by North Korea, which has repeatedly launched ballistic missiles, it does not address the balance in Japan's overall defense capabilities or the suitability of increasing defense spending. One cannot help asking whether it is not to precipitate an attempt to push these issues forward while avoiding due deliberation.
At the meeting of directors, legislators exchanged opinions on the various recommendations. Defense Minister Tomomi Inada was present and thanked participants for their "valuable opinions."
Japan has two levels of ballistic missile defense: SM-3 missiles on Aegis-equipped vessels that intercept missiles outside the Earth's atmosphere, and in case they failed, land-based Patriot PAC-3 missiles to shoot them down within the atmosphere.
North Korea has been improving its capabilities, firing a missile on May 14 to an altitude over 2,000 kilometers on a lofted trajectory making it harder to intercept. The government has begun considering introducing the Aegis Ashore system, featuring radars and interceptor missiles, but some ruling party politicians remain dissatisfied with this approach, arguing that ballistic missile defense alone is insufficient. The inclusion of the proposal that Japan possess the ability to strike an enemy base with cruise missiles or other weapons after being attacked aims to absorb such dissatisfaction.
Former commander-in-chief of Japan's Self-Defense Fleet, Yoji Koda, welcomed the proposed enhancement of Japan's ballistic missile defense, but said Japan should consider its priorities.
"There are other areas of defense capability provisions that are insufficient, such as the defense of outlying islands and sea lanes, control of waters in the East China Sea, and a structure to maintain air superiority, so we should consider the level of priority in making arrangements," he said. Regarding the ability to strike enemy bases, he said, "If we go ahead with this without sufficient mutual understanding clarifying the 'shield and spear' relationship of the Japan-U.S. alliance, then it could have negative effects on the relations between Japan and the United States."