Photo/IllutrationA Type 12 surface-to-ship missile (From the Ground Self-Defense Force website)

  • Photo/Illustraion

In response to Chinese naval vessels repeatedly sailing through the strategic Miyako Strait, the government is considering deploying a surface-to-ship (SSM) missile unit to the main Okinawa island.

Through this deployment, Japan is aiming to keep the movements of these vessels in check from both sides of the strait between Miyakojima island and the main Okinawa island, government sources said Feb. 26.

The government plans to formulate the details of the new unit, including its scale, in the Defense Ministry and the secretariat for the National Security Council. It will incorporate them in the new National Defense Program Guidelines to be worked out by the end of this year and the Medium Term Defense Program.

According to the sources, the government is considering deploying a battery of the most advanced Type 12 SSM to the main Okinawa island. Its range is about 200 kilometers.

The current National Defense Program Guidelines, worked out in 2013, stipulate that Japan will assign SSM units to defend remote islands. Japan has already decided to deploy an SSM unit to Miyakojima island, located south of the Miyako Strait.

The Medium Term Defense Program (for fiscal 2014 to fiscal 2018), which was worked out along with the guidelines, also include policies to strengthen units deployed to the Nansei chain of islands, located between the main Kyushu island and Taiwan.

Based on the program, the government has decided to deploy the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Type 12 SSM units to Miyakojima island and Ishigakijima island of Okinawa Prefecture and Amami-Oshima island of Kagoshima Prefecture from fiscal 2018.

It has also decided to deploy guard units and surface-to-air missile batteries on the three islands.

However, the width of the Miyako Strait, located between the main Okinawa island and Miyakojima island, is as great as about 290 kilometers. Therefore, even if SSMs with a range of about 200 km are stationed on Miyakojima island, they will be unable to cover the entire strait.

To widen the coverage range, the government plans to station another SSM unit on the main Okinawa island.

In November 2008, four Chinese naval vessels navigated through the Miyako Strait to the Pacific Ocean. It marked the first time that Chinese navy ships had done so.

Since then, Chinese naval vessels have passed through the strait two to five times annually through 2016 except for 2009, according to the Japanese Defense Ministry.

In January 2018, the ministry confirmed that a Chinese nuclear-powered submarine sailed underwater around the Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea.

Under international law, there are no restrictions on Chinese naval vessels navigating in the open sea.

However, a high-ranking ministry official said, “(The Chinese military vessels' navigations to the western Pacific Ocean) have become a major threat to the U.S. forces that are engaged in activities there.”