Japan Mulls Deployment of Anti-Ship Missiles on Okinawa

Amid a growing Chinese naval presence, Japan is considering additional steps to protect Miyako Strait.

Japan Mulls Deployment of Anti-Ship Missiles on Okinawa
Credit: Wikimedia Commons/Japan Ground Self-Defense Force

The Japanese government is considering deploying surface-to-ship missile systems to the main island of Okinawa prefecture to strengthen Japan’s defense posture in response to China’s growing maritime assertiveness in the region, local media reported on February 27.

By deploying anti-ship missiles on Okinawa’s main island, the Japanese Ministry of Defense (MoD) thinks it can cover the entire Miyako Strait, located between the islands of Miyako, about 170 kilometers (105 miles) from the disputed Senkakus, and Okinawa. The strait is one of the principal gateways for the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to the Pacific Ocean.

The Japan Self-Defense Force already plans to station anti-ship missiles on the island of Miyako in Okinawa prefecture, as well as Amami-Oshima and Ishigaki islands. Anti-ship missile units might also deploy to Yonaguni Island, part of Okinawa prefecture in the East China Sea, where Japan installed a permanent new radar station in 2016.

The anti-ship missiles may be deployed on Anami-Oshima by the end of fiscal year 2018, which ends in March 2019, whereas the units destined for Miyako could be deployed during fiscal year 2019. The deployment schedule for Ishigaki is unclear and there has been no public announcement that the Japanese MoD will station anti-ship missiles on Yonagumi.

The weapon system to be deployed to the islands will likely be Japan Ground Self-Defense Force’s Type 12 subsonic anti-ship missile, an upgraded variant of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries’ Type 88 surface-to-ship missile with a reported range of 200 kilometers (124 miles). The Type 12 missile, featuring an inertial navigation system with mid-course GPS guidance, is fired from a transporter erector launcher (TEL), each capable of carrying up to six missiles.

As I reported in August 2016, Japan is also working on a more powerful ground-based anti-ship missile. “Japan has not revealed many details about the new weapon system except that it will have an approximate range of 300 kilometers (186 miles), use solid fuel, and is slated to be deployed by 2023,” I wrote at the time. It will also be fired from a TEL. Japan’s defense budgets have allocated funds for the development of the new missile system.

In January, the MoD also completed development of its first domestically designed supersonic anti-ship missile, designated XASM-3, with mass production of the new weapon system expected to begin in fiscal year 2019. The XASM-3 is a supersonic air-launched anti-ship missile with an operational range of up to 150 kilometers and will be carried by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force’s (JASDF) F-2 multirole fighter jets, a Mitsubishi license-produced variant of Lockheed Martin’s F-16.

The deployment of anti-ship missile units to Okinawa prefecture is part of Japan’s overall strategy to strengthen its position in the East China Sea. Part of this strategy includes setting up the country’s first Amphibious Rapid Deployment Brigade by April 2018. The unit, to be stationed in Sasebo, Nagasaki prefecture, in southwestern Japan, will be rapidly deployable to the islets of the Ryukyu Island chain, which stretches southwest from Kyushu to Taiwan.