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Move aims to seal off 'first island chain': analysts

2014-06-16 09:07 Global Times Web Editor: Li Yan

Tokyo boosts missile defense

Japan is moving to strengthen its military capability to block the Chinese navy with more advanced surface-to-ship missiles (SSM) scheduled to be deployed in the country's southwest in 2016.

Japan's Ground Self-Defense Force will start to deploy Type 12 SSMs in 2016 in Kumamoto prefecture on the island of Kyushu to "guard from China's attack to some extent," the Sankei Shimbun newspaper reported Sunday.

A total of 196 missiles, worth 30.9 billion yen ($302 million), will be deployed to Kumamoto. Research and development work on this advanced type of missile was based on the Type 88 missile, which has a firing range of 150 kilometers. The type 12 missile's firing range can reach up to 200 kilometers, according to Sankei.

Type 12 SSMs have also been deployed in Japan's northernmost island Hokkaido and Aomori, the northernmost prefecture of Honshu, to "prevent military threats from Russia."

According to the paper, Tokyo believes that if a war breaks out between China and Japan, China would deploy vessels carrying amphibian chariots, frigates and guided missile destroyers to deny access to the waters surrounding Japan's outlying islands. "The SSMs would contain such military actions to some extent," it said.

Okinawa's Miyako Island saw the first deployment of Type 88 SSMs in November 2013 during a military exercise, which included a drill focused on capturing an island.

Miyako Island is the closest island to the Diaoyu Islands with a distance of only 170 kilometers. It is also close to the Miyako Strait, through which the Chinese navy travels to the West Pacific.

Ties between Beijing and Tokyo have been tense since Japan's so-called nationalization of the Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea in 2012.

Chinese analysts have always seen Miyako as a key strategic position for Japan to deploy missiles if it wishes to pose a real threat to the Chinese navy.

"The Miyako Strait is 250 kilometers long and the firing range of the missile is up to 150 kilometers, which would make it easy for Japan to cut off sea transport if they deployed them at both ends of the strait," Li Jie, a naval military expert, told the Global Times.

Li added that the advancing technology of Japan could soon pose a threat even if missiles were only deployed at one end of the strait. "The missiles could also become an effective weapon during wartime. But this is more a blockade along the first island chain where Miyako is located," Li said.

The first island chain stretches from the Japanese archipelago through the island of Taiwan to the Philippines. It encircles China, and the US came to regard it as an important barrier to containing China and other communist countries in the 1950s, Xinhua reported.

The placement of the missiles is also seen as a move to assist the Asian pivot strategy of the US, Li noted. "Okinawa is armed with more elite weapons, including F22 jet fighters for emergency response," Li said.

The Japanese government has decided to finish its deployment of self-defense forces on islands in the East China Sea by 2018. Islands including Miyako and Ishigaki will be armed with armored vehicles and amphibian planes. A total of 60 million yen from Japan's defense budget this year will be used for new military bases, local media reported.

"To intercept and track down Chinese naval forces, Japan either has to enlarge its maritime forces such as building more warships, or choose a cheaper way, and that is missile deployment, due to the domestic pressure over its naval buildup and limited budget," said Lan Yun, a defense observer and editor at Modern Ships magazine.

The US is also unlikely to expand the Seventh Fleet given the complicated world situation that is diverting US attention, according to Lan.

Lan told the Global Times that modern naval battles require more maneuverability than firepower. "Missile deployment is only a measure of expediency. SSMs on islands could theoretically seal off China's passage through Miyako, but the Chinese military could go for other straits. Japan is applying defense theories from the Cold War in a modern world," Lan said.

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