TOKYO -- Japan looks to deploy electronic-warfare aircraft that can neutralize enemy air defenses and command systems remotely, blurring the line between strict self-defense and offensive base-strike capability.
The country is exploring options including Boeing's EA-18G fighter jet -- nicknamed the "Growler" -- which emits large radio pulses to jam radar and communication systems. The EA-18G also carries missiles to knock out radar facilities.
The Defense Ministry intends to write the aircraft into its Mid-Term Defense Program when that plan is revised at the end of 2018, acquiring several jets between fiscal 2019 and fiscal 2023.
Electronic defenses have a range of several hundred kilometers, according to the Defense Ministry's acquisition and technology unit. If necessary, Japan could deploy the aircraft over international waters off the coast of North Korea to disable missile bases and radar facilities.
The jets also would enhance the country's so-called Anti-Access/Area Denial strategy, which aims to keep Chinese aircraft and military vessels from encroaching on Japan's surroundings. China is deploying its own electronic-warfare aircraft under the military's recently formed Strategic Support Force.
Japan is stocking up on other equipment that theoretically could be used in a strike on enemy facilities. The government will buy air-to-surface joint strike missiles from Norway in fiscal 2018, letting Japan attack targets around 500km away. The Defense Ministry also has begun researching domestic production of cruise missiles.
The ministry may overhaul Japan's Izumo-class helicopter carriers to function as aircraft carriers, altering the vessels' decks so that fighter jets can take off and land. Some also have proposed purchasing F-35B stealth fighters to work with the retrofitted ships. This cutting-edge aircraft can take off from shorter runways than others in its class.
Japan denies these acquisitions are intended to give the country offensive strike capability, holding to its policy of exclusive self-defense. The new equipment is "ultimately meant to defend Japan," a Defense Ministry official said.
The government maintains that it relies on the U.S. for the ability to strike enemy bases and that weaponry violating the defense-only policy would be "used only in the event of a catastrophic breakdown among our allies," Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera has said. But Japan's stock of such equipment could grow, unless clear guidelines are enacted that distinguish between defense and offense.