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Japan deploys its first Surface-to-Ship missile unit in Okinawa.

| Defense News Army 2024

On March 30, 2024, a ceremony at the Katsuren camp of the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force marked the launch of Japan's first surface-to-ship missile unit, equipped with Type 12 missiles, on the main island of Okinawa. This event takes place as Japan strengthens its defensive measures in response to China's increasing assertiveness in the region.
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Armed with Type 12 surface-to-ship guided missiles, the regiment's primary mission will be to monitor Chinese military vessels navigating the waters between Okinawa and Miyako Island. (Picture source: JGSDF)

During the ceremony, Senior Vice Defense Minister Makoto Oniki emphasized the strategic significance of Okinawa for protecting Japanese interests, considering its central position in a chain of Japanese islands stretching toward Taiwan. Located midway in a 1,200-kilometer chain of Japanese islands from the southernmost main island of Kyushu to Taiwan, Okinawa plays a strategic role in monitoring naval movements in the region. Okinawa also holds a critical strategic position in the US defense framework in the region, housing approximately 30,000 soldiers across all four military branches.

The surface-to-ship missile regiment was established on March 21. Armed with Type 12 surface-to-ship guided missiles, the regiment's primary mission will be to monitor Chinese military vessels navigating the waters between Okinawa and Miyako Island.

Developed by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the Type 12 surface-to-ship missile features advanced technologies, including inertial guidance, GPS, and radar-guided systems. With an operational range of 200 to 400 kilometers, there are plans to extend its range to "at least" 1,000 kilometers by 2026. This effort aligns with Japan's ambitious $320 billion rearmament program announced in 2022. Introduced as a successor to the Type 88 surface-to-ship missiles in 2001, the Type 12 system began deployment in 2014. While its basic configuration mirrors that of its predecessor, significant enhancements have been made to the mounted vehicle and the missile storage container.

According to the Defense Ministry, the combined number of officers stationed at the headquarters of the newly established regiment, along with the troops under their command, is estimated to be around 200. Similar surface-to-ship missile units are already operational on Miyako and Ishigaki islands in Okinawa Prefecture, as well as Amami-Oshima Island in Kagoshima Prefecture.

Island residents have expressed concerns about the escalation of military tensions as the central government plans to equip the Okinawa Prefecture with an upgraded version of the Type 12 missile with an extended firing range, slated for deployment starting in the fiscal year beginning April 2025. Okinawa Governor Tamaki Denny has consistently opposed the deployment of weapons with counterstrike capabilities in the prefecture, which already hosts the majority of US military facilities in Japan.

Japan's recent deployment of the surface-to-ship missile unit is a crucial response to China's assertive activities along the first island chain, a strategically important area stretching from the Japanese archipelago to Taiwan, the Philippines, Borneo, and the Malay Peninsula. With the People's Liberation Army increasingly active in contested areas such as the Miyako Strait, including the deployment of nuclear-capable bombers, the significance of Japan's defensive measures cannot be understated.

Defense News April 2024

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