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article imageOp-Ed: Japan to buy Tomahawk missiles? Good idea, in many ways

By Paul Wallis     May 9, 2017 in World
Tokyo - The somewhat startling information that Japan wants to buy Tomahawk missiles has created a flurry of speculation in military circles. It might also be an Off switch for a wider conflict.
The Japanese interest in acquiring Tomahawks is theoretically based on dealing with the threat from North Korean medium range missiles, called Rodong missiles, which can definitely hit Japan. The threat is seen as real enough to warrant credibility. (The Rodongs are called “Nodongs” in South Korea, just in case you thought they ever agreed on anything.)
Please note: The news sources cite Rodong missiles, but these are older missiles from the 1980s. North Korea has other, more modern missiles, too, much more able to carry nuclear warheads if North Korea gets its missile arming right. Let's just use the Rodongs as a metaphor for mobile ballistic missiles.
The North Korean nuke threat to Japan, however, includes a level of military incompetence which almost defies description. In a major regional conflict, firing missiles at Japan is about as useless as possible. Japan isn’t even a worthwhile target for North Korea, if it’s in a life and death fight with South Korea and the US.
That may not be Japan’s view, however. Japan has watched a lot of North Korean missiles rain around its waters. Taking precautions against stupidity does make sense from that perspective.
The theory of acquiring Tomahawks adds a lot of forward defence and pre-emptive strike power to Japan’s capabilities. Japan has had AEGIS capabilities for some time, and could easily use naval forces to deliver strikes.
The trouble is that the Rodong missiles are on mobile launchers, superannuated Russian style mobile launchers dating back to the 70s, originally designed to carry Soviet SS18 missiles. Mobile launchers can be hard to find, and usually come with some sort of defence backup.
The USS Ross fires a tomahawk land attack missile on April 7  2017  at a Syrian air force airfield
The USS Ross fires a tomahawk land attack missile on April 7, 2017, at a Syrian air force airfield
Robert S. Price, US Navy/AFP/File
Against Tomahawks, however, if they are found, they’re dead meat. The distances in the Sea of Japan/ Korea aren’t large. The missiles have the range to hit just about anywhere, and are highly accurate. They can also be diverted to other targets, in flight, another consideration, even if the Rodongs do run for cover.
Some critics say that Japan doesn’t have the intelligence resources it needs to locate these missiles. That’s unlikely to be the case in any real situation, where both the US and South Korea can provide information.
Nor is Japan’s own military intelligence capacity necessarily quite that dumb. (It’s difficult to believe that a country in constant disputes with China would be backward in intelligence gathering, to start with.) There are plenty of ways of tracking hostile movements with even off-the-rack equipment, and Japan’s military is pretty well equipped with modern standard and home-grown systems.
North Korea displayed its ballistic missiles during a 2015 military parade at Kim Il-Sung Square in ...
North Korea displayed its ballistic missiles during a 2015 military parade at Kim Il-Sung Square in Pyongyang, to mark the 70th anniversary of its ruling Workers' Party
An effective strike would do the job, too. The impact of a few dozen thoughtful Tomahawks on any North Korean missile system is likely to be severe. North Korea doesn’t have a lot of numerical depth in this field and can only take so much damage.
As a deterrent, it might also work. The threat of fighting a third, highly annoyed, and likely to be highly effective, opponent may be too much even for North Korea’s oblivious all-round aggression. Japan would probably stay out of adding to a fight on the Korean peninsula if it wasn’t directly attacked itself, but not in its own backyard, if under actual attack.
The Japanese third element effect, in fact, could be highly productive in a real war. North Korea would be stretched to handle a seaborne attack, as well as whatever other hellish situation it might create on the mainland. The North Korean navy is not in the same class as the Japanese navy, in any respect. It couldn’t prevent a cruise missile attack, nor deal with the much more advanced Japanese naval capabilities.
Forget the ideological issues about Japan’s move to forward defence. It’s unthinkable that Japan wouldn’t take any and all measures required to deal with an obvious, if insane, threat. Japan could provide a valuable input in to a situation which would need to be shut down ASAP.
The Tomahawks, ironically, may be the key to actual peace, adding too much power to a defensive response to a North Korean attack. North Korea could be in no doubt whatsoever that Japan would attack if provoked. That may be the added weight required to stop a war.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
More about Japanese self defence force, japanese navy, rodong missiles, nodong missiles, Cruise missiles
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