Miyakojima gets surface-to-ship missile launch system

Deployment of missiles to Miyako Island in southern Okinawa Prefecture is under way, part of a massive military exercise by the Japanese Self Defense Forces.

Japan describes the military protocols, which involve a missile launch system and loader for Type 88 surface-to-ship missiles, as well as a half-dozen missiles to go with the system, as a series of measures to protect the southernmost islands of Japan. The missiles, which Japanese officials say cannot be fired as they’re currently configured, will remain on Miyako Island for an indeterminate amount of time.  The JSDF is saying little about the missiles, but informed sources say Japan is using the drill, and the missiles, to send signals to China.

The military drills began November 1st, and are scheduled to conclude early next week.  More than 34,000 JSDF personnel, a half-dozen ships and some 360 aircraft are part of the massive demonstration of Japan’s military power.  The drills come at a time when Chinese military aircraft and ships are probing Japanese territory in the neighborhood of the disputed Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea in southwest Okinawa Prefecture, which Japan maintains sovereignty over, but which China also claims rights.

Aside from the Senkaku dispute, Beijing is saber-rattling over claims of other islands in the region, including the Spratley Islands.  The waters between Okinawa islands and Miyako are seen as important to China, because they offer unimpeded access to the Pacific Ocean. This is the area that the Type 88 missiles are reportedly rehearsing to protect.  It’s a 300-kilometer region of unrestricted waters, but Japan’s low-keying any statements on exactly what the intent of the exercise is.

The Self Defense Forces have also announced plans for creating a special amphibious unit patterned on the U.S. Marine Corps.  Officials say the amphibious unit’s mission would be to defend smaller Japanese islands, and to recapture them in the event of an enemy incursion.

China is voicing displeasure over the SDF drills, calling them provocative.  Li Jie, a Chinese expert on his nation’s naval forces, says “the missile deployment is mainly set against China and can pose real threats to the Chinese Navy.”  A newspaper which supports the Chinese and the ruling Communist Party, the Global Times, calls Japan’s decision to put missiles on Miyako Island “an unprecedented move that experts say is targeted at blocking the Chinese Navy.”  For its part, China is also accusing Japan of interfering Chinese live-fire exercises in the Pacific last month.  Tokyo refutes that allegation.