Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Shinzo Abe, in response to the latest ominous missile rattling coming from “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il of North Korea, outraged pacifists world-wide in July by declaring that its pre-emptive strikes on Kim’s missile bases would be an act of self-defense.
While Abe appeared to be discussing such a pre-emption in theory rather than as a realistic response to the launch of ballistic missiles by North Korea into the Sea of Japan, his words were heard in every Asian nation. Abe’s remarks were later diluted a bit after Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi told the press that Japan would “have to think carefully about whether we can really resort to arms before we are attacked because this is also a constitutional issue."
On the 4th of July (not a coincidence), North Korea had another tantrum and test-fired seven ballistic missiles, including a Taepodong-2, a model may be able to reach Hawaii and even the west coast of the US. While the Taepodong appeared to have failed catastrophically less than a minute after launch, it did successfully deliver its message: Kim Jong-il is still mad as a hatter and may take as much of the world with him as he can when his dictatorship finally collapses.
Japan has a stronger military than it advertises. In May, 2003, it quietly launched the first or a series of spy satellites into orbit, the better to keep tabs on potential threats like Pyongyang. Ignoring North Korean threats of "disastrous consequences," Japan successfully launched a rocket carrying two military spy satellites, giving the island nation its own space-based intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) capability. Tokyo is also accelerating development of missile defenses, building its commando forces, and working on creating an in-flight refueling capability for its fleet of F-15 aircraft, which would give them the ability to strike North Korea. There is even a suggestion from some in the Japanese government that the country should build nuclear weapons – a call that may be heard more loudly now that North Korea is threatening to launch its own nukes at neighboring nations.
A second set of satellites was subsequently launched. The four orbit at an average altitude of 300 miles, allowing Japan to photograph any part of the world at least once a day. The satellites carry optical- and radar-imaging capabilities, and it would be surprising if they did not also possess at least some electronic-intelligence capabilities.
The Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force has approximately 45,800 sailors, 146 surface combatants, 179 airplanes, and 135 helicopters. Its fleet is divided into four flotillas, each around a 7,200-ton Kongo-class guided missile destroyer with AEGIS-capable surface to air missiles. The Kongos carry the SPY-1D AEGIS radar. The four Escort Flotillas have 2-3 air warfare ships and 5-6 anti-submarine destroyers, plus ASW helicopters. The JMSDF also fields twenty-three other guided missile destroyers, a number of gun-only destroyers and escorts, and 17 modern diesel-electric subs, perfectly suited for warfare in the Sea of Japan. In possibly confronting North Korea, Japan’s Air Self Defense Force has 46,000 airmen and force of over 330 combat aircraft, including F-15J/DJs, F-4E/EJs, F-2A/Bs, and F-1s.
That Japan – a nation traditionally and strictly limited to a defensive military since 1945 -- has so publicly declared its intention to “get buffed” and not be cowed by a rogue state is an interesting turn of events in an age of asymmetric warfare.
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