Sino-Japanese relations have been deteriorating since 2010. What started as a dust-up over a Chinese fisherman arrested for fishing in Japanese waters has escalated into a series of unpleasant incidents between the two countries, mostly in and around the uninhabited, and largely unappealing Senkaku Islands (Diaoyu Islands in China.)
For now, incidents have largely been restricted to demonstrations by the coast guards of both sides and military aircraft encounters. Yet with each year, relations between China and Japan have steadily deteriorated. Unchecked, someday what may seem like routine unpleasantness could spiral into military action. Listed below for your consideration are five Japanese weapons of war that Beijing should think carefully about if the unthinkable ever occurred:
Soryu-class Diesel Electric Submarines
Japan’s Soryu-class submarines are some of the most advanced non-nuclear attack submarines in the world. Displacing 4,100 tons submerged, the subs can make 13 knots on the surface and up to 20 knots submerged. Four Stirling air independent propulsion systems allow the Soryu class to remain underwater far longer than most diesel electric submarines.
The Soryu class is armed with six bow-mounted torpedo tubes, with a total of 20 Type 89 high-speed homing torpedoes and American-made Sub-Harpoon missiles . Japan’s submarines could also be the delivery vehicles for cruise missiles, should the concept of preemptive strikes, currently being debated in Japanese politics, become a reality.
There are currently eight Soryu-class submarines, with more under construction. In response to increased tensions with China and a growing People’s Liberation Army Navy submarine fleet, in 2010 Japan decided to increase its own submarine force from 16 to 22.
Japan’s postwar submarine doctrine concentrates submarines at a number of key invasion routes to Japan: the Tsugaru Strait, Tsushima Strait, Kanmon Strait, and the Soya Strait. This concentration is a Cold War holdover, from when Japan expected that Soviet Union might invade during wartime. A more China-centric deployment plan, especially with the Senkakus and Ryukyu islands in mind, could see more forward deployments into the East China Sea and Sea of Japan.
Japan’s submarine fleet is particularly worrisome to China because of Beijing’s traditional weakness in anti-submarine warfare (ASW). China has not practiced ASW in wartime and has been institutionally deficient in both skills and assets. Japan, on the other hand, has operated submarines for many decades. Japanese submarine crews are reportedly well trained, on par with their American counterparts.
Next up is the cream of Japan’s fighter force, the Air Self Defense Force’s F-15J air superiority fighter. The twin-engined F-15J is the Japanese version of the American F-15 Eagle, with minor differences and manufactured domestically by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.
The F-15J is armed with the AAM-5 infrared homing missile, similar to the American Sidewinder missile, which it replaced. Complementing it will be the AAM-4B, a medium-ranged radar-guided missile and one of the few missiles in the world with an active-array radar seeker. Active-array radar missiles, of which China has none, dramatically increase both the range and the lock-on capability of radar-guided missiles, giving the F-15J a distinct advantage over Chinese adversaries.
More than 200 F-15Js have been built. In order to keep these 30+ year old planes competitive against the new generation of Chinese fighters, a dozen a year are upgraded with new electronic countermeasures (the Mitsubishi Integrated Electronic Warfare System), forward looking infrared and infrared search and track capability.
The F-15J is the front line of Japan’s military response to foreign military forces. In 2013, the ASDF performed 567 air intercepts of foreign aircraft approaching Japanese airspace, a new record. The single squadron of 20 F-15Js stationed on Okinawa covering the Senkaku and Ryukyu islands will be reinforced with another squadron, and the possibility of stationing a small detachment on the island of Yonaguni is being studied.
Although an aging design, the F-15J still represents a formidable challenge to the People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), and after more than three decades of service is still arguably the equal of any operational Chinese fighter. Worldwide, the F-15 has a reputation as a particularly deadly fighter, with 104 aircraft kills and zero losses .
Atago-Class Guided Missile Destroyers
The two destroyers of the Atago class are Japan’s most capable surface combatants, floating arsenals designed to take on a variety of missions. At 10,000 tons fully loaded, the Atago destroyers weigh as much as Japan’s World War II era cruisers . The U.S.-designed Aegis radar system makes it a potent mobile air defense platform, capable of shooting down aircraft and ballistic missiles.
Atago-class destroyers are equipped with 96 Mk.41 vertical launch missile silos, each capable of holding a single SM-2 surface to air missile , SM-3 ballistic missile interceptors, or ASROC anti-submarine rockets. Anti-ship armament consists of eight SSM-1B anti-ship missiles, roughly equivalent to the American Harpoon missile, while gun armament is in the form of one five inch gun and two Phalanx close-in weapons systems. Finally, each Atago can engage submarines with a SH-60 Seahawk helicopter and six deck-mounted Type 73 anti-submarine torpedoes.