Japan deploys type 12 anti-ship missiles launchers at China’s choke point

Japan has deployed surface-to-ship missile launchers on Okinawa Island to counter China’s aggressive moves along the first island chain, Japanese media said.

The Ministry of Defense and the Self-Defense Forces announced that a Type 12 surface-to-ship missile launcher, believed to be part of this new unit, was transported to the area in the early hours of Thursday, the Japanese newspaper Ryukyu Shimpo reported on Thursday.

“This is the first time that a surface-to-ship missile unit has been established on the main island of Okinawa, and it is also the first time that Type 12 surface-to-ship missiles have been delivered to the main island,” Ryukyu Shimpo reported.

This strategic move by Japan involves deploying missile systems in key locations across the first island chain to form a north-south blockade against China. The People’s Liberation Army increasingly operates in contested areas like the Miyako Strait, including deploying its nuclear-capable bombers.

The first island chain is a series of islands stretching north from the Japanese archipelago through Taiwan, the Philippines, Borneo, and the Malay Peninsula.

The Miyako Strait is a 155-mile international passageway between Miyako and the Okinawa Islands.

Okinawa is strategically important in the U.S. defense posture in the region, as roughly 30,000 troops from all four branches are stationed in Japan on the crucial island base.

This marks the first-ever establishment of a surface-to-ship missile unit on the main island of Okinawa, also introducing the Type 12 surface-to-ship missiles to the island.

“Between 1:40 a.m. and 2:00 a.m., 12 Self-Defense Force vehicles quietly entered Katsuren Bunchi. Five of the vehicles were trailers, four had covered cargo beds, and one had what appeared to be a crane. It appears to have transported a launcher,” Ryukyu Shimpo reported.

Earlier, Japanese media reported that Japan’s Ground Self-Defense Force had moved up the schedule to deploy Type 12 missiles by 2025.

“The improved version of the Type 12 surface-to-ship guided missile is planned to extend its range from just over 100 kilometers to well over 1,000 kilometers. From its initial development, the plan was to deploy the ground-launched missile from fiscal 2026. However, Kihara instructed his ministry to consider moving up this schedule,” Japanese newspaper The Japan News had reported on December 16, 2023.

These domestically produced long-range missiles are designed to enhance Japan’s deterrence and response capabilities against potential threats from China and North Korea, according to The Japan News.

In April 2023, Japan’s Ministry of Defense signed a contract with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for the development and mass production of the upgraded Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missiles (SSMs), allocating JPY33.8 billion (approximately $235 million) in the 2023 budget for the development of a prototype, according to Janes Group, an open-source military affairs platform.

The total R&D cost is estimated at JPY150 billion, underscoring Japan’s commitment to bolstering its defense posture.

The upgraded Type 12 SSM will feature enhanced range capabilities of 200–1,000 km, a larger missile length, a modified shape, an updated command link for in-flight target updates, and increased engine endurance for more extended operations, Janes Group said.

This enhancement comes as countries in the region, including Japan and the Philippines, are actively working to prevent China from crossing the so-called First Island Chain.

Meanwhile, the Philippines faces severe security challenges posed by China’s gray-zone tactics in the South China Sea.

“The Philippines has also deployed BrahMos anti-ship missiles in Basco on Batan Island. This move, along with Japan deploying anti-ship missile systems in the Miyako Strait on Yonaguni and Miyako islands, and Taiwan’s Hsiung Feng anti-ship missiles, forms a north-south blockade against China,” Su Tzu-yun, a research fellow at Taiwan’s Institute for National Defense and Security Research (INDSR), told Taiwan’s official Central News Agency on Tuesday.

The Philippines hasn’t yet confirmed the deployment of a joint India-Russia developed BrahMos anti-ship missiles system.

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