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  • Japan's Deep Game in Okinawa
    Posted by David A. Fulghum 2:47 PM on May 25, 2010

    Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama is taking a beating from opponents of U.S. bases in Japan for reversing his decision on keeping a Marine Corps airbase on Okinawa. But his reward will be a substantially reinforced, air-launched, tactical ballistic and cruise missile defense for his island nation whose area of responsibility extends to within about 30 mi. of China’s coast.

    Hatoyama hinted at the reason for his change of mind, by saying that he now has a better appreciation of the role of U.S. forces on Okinawa as a deterrent in the region. While critics have focused on the Marine Corps presence, the U.S. Air Force and intelligence agencies have been quietly assembling capabilities on the island that offer long-range surveillance, advanced weaponry and increasingly sophisticated defenses. The capability is impressive enough that Chinese military and commercial ships now conduct regular surveillance of military activity on and around Okinawa.

    China is seen as the primary cruise missile threat since it has developed a new, faster, long-range weapon that can be launched from its Su-27MKK strike fighter fleet. North Korea has the greater fear factor, however, because of its suspected nuclear ballistic missile capability and its government’s erratic behavior, aggressive actions and the alleged sinking of a South Korea ship.

    Okinawa is already home to the first wing of U.S. Air Force Boeing F-15Cs carrying an older model of active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar. The Raytheon-designed radar essentially increases the aircraft’s radar range from about 50 mi. to around 150 mi. (horizontal or vertical) and it allows the fighters to detect small and stealthy targets in time to intercept cruise missiles with specially designed AIM-120C-6 and AIM-120D Amraam weapons. Other missile designs for ballistic missile defense are under development.

    Currently envisioned ballistic missile defenses are focused on boost-phase interception using an F-22, F-15 or perhaps even a Remotely Piloted Aircraft. Moreover, defense officials say that the F-22 – equipped with an AESA radar and a missile with enough speed and range – could intercept tactical ballistic missile warheads in the terminal phase and could with further refinement conduct anti-satellite missions against low-flying space objects. Officially, neither military or industry officials will answer questions on anti-satellite plans or capabilities.  

    Defense officials say additional AESA-equipped fighter units will be stationed in Okinawa to substantially increase the anti-missile forces already stationed there. The initial Okinawa-based F-15 unit worked out tactics for cruise missile defense while stationed in Alaska. Two years ago the unit made the shift to Japan’s southernmost airbase which has responsibility for an area of operations that extends to within about 20 mi. of China. Japan also joined in the preparations by sending its F-4Js to mainland bases and replacing them with F-15Js.

    The newest twist is that the U.S. Air National Guard and Raytheon are talking about the demonstration of an air-launched, hit-to-kill missile called the network-centric airborne defense element (NCADE) for a ballistic missile defense mission. It uses an Aim-120 AMRAAM missile body and extends the range far enough to support anti-ballistic missile operations.

    The Air National Guard revealed in late April that it had started AESA radar upgrades of its Golden Eagle F-15C fleet starting with the Forida ANG’s 125th Fighter Wing. They will be followed by units in Massachusetts and Montana.

    “We’re embracing an air-launched concept for theater ballistic missile defense as a deterrent and as a tactical capability to protect our forces in-theater and for homeland defense,” says Maj. Todd Giggy, the 125th’s chief of weapons and tactics.

    F-22s also carry AESA radars as will both the USAF’s fleet of 220 F-15Es  with the APG-82(V)4 radar and Air National Guard F-15s (with the APG-63(V)3 radar) Golden Eagles. AESAs also will be delivered to the Air Force’s Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nev.)

    Tags: ar99, AESA, BMD, F-15s, Okinawa

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