Tokyo: Having focused for some time on a missile threat from North Korea to its north, Japanese defence planners would now appear to be shifting attention to a more sophisticated threat emanating from the west – China. According to Japanese daily, Yomiuri Shimbun, this shift in focus has been occasioned by the development of sophisticated cruise missile capabilities by China, which is upgrading both the range of its cruise missiles and the variety of platforms that can carry and launch them – land, sea and air.
According to the daily, the Japanese defence ministry plans to increase the number of aircraft equipped with airborne warning and control systems and install state-of-the-art radar capable of early detection of precision-guided missiles heading for Japan.
Apart from upgrading sensor-based defence systems, the report said, Japan is also considering developing an advanced long-range surface-to-air missile. The report cites senior defence ministry sources.
A couple of years after N Korea shocked the world by firing a missile across the island nation, the Japanese government had been mainly focused on developing a ballistic missile defence system which would meet this threat from the north.
But it has now begun to take cognisance of the fact that China has equipped its fighter jets and submarines with domestically developed cruise missiles, which have a range in excess of 1,000 kilometres (625 miles), the newspaper said.
It is also being said that Beijing has begun development of advanced precision-guided missiles with a range of about 3,000 kilometres, matching capabilities of the US Tomahawk cruise missiles, the report said.
What has worried Japanese defence planners is the fact that Chinese fighter jets repeatedly approached Japan last year, coming close enough to launch a cruise missile before returning to Chinese air space, the newspaper said.
"We believe these acts were unlikely to be part of information-gathering exercises, but rather drills to prepare for a possible cruise missile attack on Japan," a senior Japanese defence official told the Yomiuri.