The recommendations can be divided into two broad categories:
- Strengthening Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD)
- Improving deterrence in the U.S.-Japan alliance as a whole
Strengthening Integrated Air and Missile Defense
First, with regard to enhancing IAMD, the report considers alternative plans to the suspension of Aegis Ashore deployment, as well as the operation of low-orbit satellite constellations and UAVs, which are essential for detecting and tracking hypersonic weapons. In particular, with regard to alternatives to Aegis Ashore, proposals to mount the Aegis system on mega-floats, to place the launcher near the coastline, and to build additional Aegis destroyers have been considered, but the report does not provide a specific solution and only urges the government to take action.
Another major issue is how and where to use the radar initially contracted for Aegis Ashore. The Ministry of Defense (MOD) had decided to procure the SPY-7, a state-of-the-art Lockheed Martin radar for Japan’s Aegis Ashore. While the deployment of Aegis Ashore has been suspended, the contract for the radar has not been cancelled. So the question remains about the use of the SPY-7 radar and it has been raised by Japanese politicians.
On August 3, the day before the proposal was handed to the Japanese government, the deputy head of the study team, LDP lawmaker Gen Nakatani, a former defense minister, appeared on Fuji Television’s news program “Prime News”. At the time, he said that the SPY-7 “should be deployed on the Pacific side as an early warning radar”. His comments were probably made with China (not North Korea) in mind. Currently, the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has increased its activity from the East China Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, if a land attack missile is launched from a PLAN vessel or aircraft in the Pacific, its detection could be delayed by the currently deployed Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) radar sites.
Deploying SPY-7 as an early warning radar on Pacific islands such as Iwo Jima (known in Japan as Iwo To) would effectively address these situations. In addition, in light of U.S. Indo-Pacific Command commander Adm. Phil Davidson’s comments to reporters that he hopes to deploy Aegis Ashore to Guam by 2026, the SPY-7 is expected to serve as a forward sensor for this Aegis Ashore site. In this case, if Japan decides to redeploy the Aegis Ashore, the Raytheon SPY-6 could be selected as its radar. The SPY-6 was previously defeated by the SPY-7 in the Japanese Aegis Ashore radar competition, but there is persistent criticism from Japanese politicians and experts that the SPY-6 should have been introduced in light of the cooperation with the US forces.
Improving deterrence in the U.S.-Japan alliance as a whole
Next, improving deterrence in the U.S.-Japan alliance as a whole is mainly concerned with possessing the ability to attack the enemy’s missile-launching capabilities and related facilities. However, conscious of Japanese public opinion, the report avoids using the words “attack” or “strike” and instead uses the phrase “capability to defeat (or intercept) missiles in the enemy’s territory”.
Many Japanese media report this capability as “an alternative to Aegis Ashore deployment,” however, this is a misunderstanding. As for the reason for recommending this capability, the report cites “improvements of North Korea’s technology with respect to ballistic missiles, as well as China and Russia’s development of hypersonic weapons,” so intercepting them with SM-3 and PAC-3 would not be enough. Therefore, in addition to these existing intercepting systems, Japan also aims to possess its own strike capability to counter enemy attacks in a more multi-layered manner. The concept of IAMD, which combines defense and offense, is currently being studied in the U.S., and the recommendations in this report are probably based on this.
Some critics argue that having such a capability would lead to a pre-emptive strike, which is illegal under international law. However, in accordance with the UN Charter, Japan has explicitly declared that it will use force after an armed attack has been launched. Thus, even if Japan possessed this capability, it would not lead to a pre-emptive strike.