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Strike capabilities of Japan, India, Australia key for US-led counter-China strategy

NewsStrike capabilities of Japan, India, Australia key for US-led counter-China strategy

The offence-defence combination with long-range strike capability is a more effective strategy than a defence-only strategy when countries face China’s territorial expansion.

Washington, DC: For a long time, Japan, India, and Australia have depended on US strike capabilities. For example, Japan possesses missile defence capabilities to intercept an enemy’s missile but not the capability to strike the missile launch pad of an enemy. However, Japan, India, and Australia have recently been seeking strike capabilities. As a result, all Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (QUAD) countries, including the US, Japan, India, and Australia, will soon possess long-range strike capabilities. What happened to bring this about? Why are these countries changing their defence policies? And, most importantly, will it work?

Japan, India, and Australia are planning for long-range strike capabilities. In the case of Japan, it decided to modify its current “Izumo” and “Kaga” helicopter carriers to be aircraft carriers with F-35B fighter jets. The Japan Air Self Defence Force is also procuring F-35A fighter jets. For these F-35 fighter jets, Japan is planning to possess 500 km-range Joint Strike Missile (JSM) anti-ship missiles, 900 km-range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles (JASSM), and 900 km-range Long-Range Anti-Ship Missiles (LRASM). The domestic Type 12 surface-to-surface missile (SSM) extends its range from the current 200 km to 900 km. If possible, Japan will extend the range of Type 12 missiles to 1500 km in the future. In addition, Japan is planning to develop new 2,000 km-range anti-ship missiles. There are 1,000 km between Kyusyu and the Senkaku Islands in Japan. And there are nearly 3,000 km between the north and south edges of Japan. The east-to-west edge of Japan is also 3,000 km. Given these distances, it is logical for Japan to possess 1,000-2,000 km-range missiles. From the current 200 km-range missiles, the 1,000-2,000 km range represents a new move for Japan (Table 1).

In the case of India, it has developed its strike capability very actively. Originally, India possessed nuclear weapons and had strike capability. But since the 2010s, India has developed more conventional strike capabilities. For example, the Indian Army established the 17 Corps in 2014 to cross the border and strike back in Tibet if China invades India. And 2020 was the year that India utilized many strike weapons, especially after the Galwan Valley incident. Since spring 2020, 5,000 Chinese troops have entered the Indian side and clashed with Indian troops, killing at least 20 of them in the Galwan Valley in June. Chinese troops have not since withdrawn from the Indian side, and they also increased their deployment of missiles and bombers in the Indo-China border area. Since September 2020, India has tested many long-range missiles and shown their strike capabilities every three days. Table 2 shows what kind of long-range missiles India has tested.

Like Japan, India has also tested 1,000-2,000 km-range missiles. India is also developing hypersonic missiles. All BrahMos missiles, Shaurya missiles, Nirbhay missiles, and Hypersonic Technology Demonstrator Vehicles (HSTDV) have supersonic- or hypersonic-level speed. HSTDV is especially important because only the US, Russia, and China have this technology. Japan, Australia, and European countries are also seeking similar technology.
In July 2020, Australia announced its intent to possess long-range strike capability. Australia already possesses JASSM, but is seeking to possess JSM and LRASM. Currently, the US is extending LRASM’s range from 370 km to 900 km. If Australia uses the latest LRASM with the F-35, Australia can deliver 1200 km + 900 km = 2,100 km range (Table 3).

Therefore, along with the US, Japan, India, and Australia are all planning to possess 1,000-2,000 km long-range strike capabilities at the same time.

Indeed, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, and South Korea are also increasing their arsenal to strike. Why are all these countries planning to improve their strike capabilities? There is a distinct possibility that the reason is China. China has been aggressive in expanding its territorial claims since the end of the 2000s, and its activities have now escalated.
Figure 1 shows the number of Chinese government and other vessels that entered Japan’s contiguous zone or intruded into the territorial sea surrounding the Senkaku Islands. Figure 2 shows the number of Chinese incursions into the Indian side of the India-China border. And Figure 3 shows the overlap of Figures 1 and 2. These figures indicate that China has increased its activities over the last decade against both Japan and India.

Figure 1 Source: Author
Figure 2: Number of China’s incursions into the India-China border area


Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, “Trends in Chinese Government and Other Vessels in the Waters Surrounding the Senkaku Islands, and Japan’s Response”

For a long time, many US allies and friendly countries depended on the strike capability of the US. When China entered their territorial sea by using military or paramilitary forces, they resisted by using their defence capability, but did not retaliate by using their strike capability. When they needed to show long-range strike capability, they depended on the US. This kind of role-sharing has stabilized the region. But China has not stopped its territorial expansion and has provoked many of its neighbours. Recently, the US asked its allies and friendly countries to share in the security burden more. As a result, US allies and friendly countries decided to obtain long-range strike capabilities.

The offence-defence combination with long-range strike capability is a more effective strategy than a defence-only strategy when these countries face China’s territorial expansion. This territorial expansion tends to have a pattern. For example, in the South China Sea, China occupied half of the Paracel Islands in the 1950s, just after France withdrew from Indochina. In the 1970s, China occupied the entire Paracel Islands after the US withdrew from Vietnam. In the 1980s, China advanced to the Spratly Islands and occupied six features of them just after the Soviet military decreased its presence in Vietnam. In the 1990s, China occupied the Mischief Reef after the US withdrew from the Philippines. Historically, when China has confidence in its military capability, it has expanded into disputed territory.
Therefore, countries around China need to reduce China’s overconfidence in its military capability to deter its territorial expansion. One of the most effective methods is making China defend multiple fronts. For example, if both Japan and India possess long-range strike capabilities, this combined capability makes China defend multiple fronts. Even if China decides to expand its territories along the India-China border, China still needs to expend a certain amount of its budget and military force to defend itself against Japan.
In addition, to deal with the route China is using to expand its territories, long-range strike capability is useful. If the straits or other choke points are under the range of US-Japan-India-Australia’s strike capability, China cannot have confidence in using these routes. In the case of the mountainous India-China border area, India can attack strategic bridges, tunnels, or airports anytime by using missiles. This reduces China’s confidence in using these strategic infrastructures.
To deter China’s expansionism, all Quad countries—the US, Japan, India, and Australia—will possess long-range strike capability. The more China escalates the situation, the more the defence capabilities of the Quad will be institutionalized. Now is just the beginning.
Satoru Nagao, PhD, is Fellow (non-resident) at Hudson Institute.

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