TOKYO >> The government is considering equipping cutting-edge F-35 stealth fighters with air-to-surface missiles, which are capable of striking remote targets on land, and plans to deploy these fighters to the Air Self-Defense Force, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.
It will become the first introduction of such missiles for the Self-Defense Forces. The government hopes to allocate relevant expenses in the fiscal 2018 budget, according to sources close to the government.
The main purpose is to prepare for emergencies on remote Japanese islands. Some experts believe the government is also eyeing possession of the capability of attacking targets, like enemy bases, to defend the country.
According to the sources, the F-35 jets that will replace the ASDF’s F-4 fighter aircraft are employed by U.S. forces and others. The F-35 has an advanced stealth capability that makes it less visible on enemy radar.
The ASDF plans to introduce 42 F-35s, deploying them to Misawa Air Base in Aomori prefecture starting at the end of this fiscal year.
The government is considering introducing additional capabilities for the aircraft, with a likely focus on the Joint Strike Missile (JSM) being developed mainly by Norway. Norway also participated in an international project to develop the F-35. The ASDF has no air-to-surface missile capabilities, but the JSM has both air-to-ship and air-to-surface capabilities, with an estimated range of about 186 miles.
The Defense Ministry is building up national defense systems to defend remote islands, such as the Nansei Islands. In addition to deploying new Osprey transport aircraft to the Ground Self-Defense Force, the ministry plans to create an amphibious rapid deployment brigade, similar to other nations’ marines.
As an air-to-surface missile has a long range, it is possible to effectively strike a target from safe airspace. The ministry decided it was necessary to consider introducing the JSM to prepare for situations such as preventing foreign military vessels from approaching remote islands or the SDF launching an operation to regain control of an occupied island.
Meanwhile, if the F-35 aircraft with an advanced stealth capability is equipped with long-range air-to-surface missiles, it will be possible to use the F-35 to attack bases in foreign countries.