Editor’s Note: The following piece was submitted to us by SOFREP reader Cory Bravo.
We thank Cory for his submission and remind all SOFREP readers that they are welcome to send articles at any time to be considered for publication. –GDM
The Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force (JGSDF) recently stationed approximately 570 personnel at a recently constructed garrison located on Ishigaki Island in the southwestern Ryukyu (Nansei) Islands Chain. Ishigaki Island is located about 151 miles (244 km) west of Taiwan and about 105 miles (68 km) northwest of the Senkaku Islands. The troops are assigned to units that operate the Type 03 Medium-Range Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) and the Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile (SSM) systems.
Ishigaki Island and Its Importance
Ishigaki Island is a part of the Ryukyu Islands consisting of 55 islands and islets that span at least 700 miles southwest of the island of Kyushu. The island is also the main island of the Yaeyama Islands Group, a sub-chain of the Ryukyus, and is considered the region’s transportation hub. The island is home to Painushima Ishigaki Airport (New Ishigaki Airport), the region’s only regional airport, and also has substantial ferry and port facilities. The island is relatively close to Taiwan (approximately 151 miles/244 km) and commercial aircraft from Taiwan can reach the island in approximately four hours. The island is also close to the Senkaku Islands/Diaoyudao Islands, whose ownership is disputed between China and Japan, with Japan administering the islands while China disputes Japan’s claims. However, the dispute reignited in 2010 when the Japanese Coast Guard (JCG) arrested a captain of a Chinese fishing vessel after it rammed two JCG vessels as it attempted to leave the area.
Another event that also reignited the dispute was when the Japanese government brought the islands in August 2012 to prevent the then-Tokyo governor from purchasing them. China responded to these by various means, such as diplomatic protests, deploying the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) to the vicinity of the islands, and allowing citizens to violently protest in cities throughout China. The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) vessels also sailed into the Japanese territorial waters around the islands to protest Japanese claims. Chinese vessels continue to enter the Senkakus after the tensions decreased in 2013 and 2014, with the most recent incident occurring on April 2, 2023. Four CCG vessels circled the islands for approximately 80 hours before leaving, making the longest amount of time Chinese vessels stayed in the water surrounding the disputed islands.
The Type 03 Medium-Range Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) System
The Type 03 Medium-Range SAM system – also called the Chū-SAM system – is an indigenously developed SAM system developed and manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The JGSDF adopted the Type 03 SAM system in 2005 and adopted an improved version – called the Chu-SAM Kai in 2017. The Chu-SAM Kai upgrades on the original Chu-SAM missile by improving the warhead’s sensors. The upgrades also incorporated new network features for increased range and improved targeting of more modern complex cruise and other missile threats. The SAM system is reported to have the ability to engage and target aircraft, helicopters, and Unmanned Aerial Systems (UASs). Additionally, the SAM system can also reportedly engage cruise missiles traveling at low altitudes. The system radar is an active phased array radar and can reportedly track and engage multiple targets at one time.
Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile (SSM) System
The Type 12 SSM system, is a Japanese-developed SSM system that is manufactured by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. The system is the successor to the older Type 88 SSM system, with the JGSDF adopting the SSM system in 2014 after thirteen years of development. The Transporter-Erector-Launcher (TEL) vehicle can carry six missiles and is launched in a nearly vertical position. The Type 12’s missiles can steer itself toward the target after launch which enables it to be launched regardless of the target’s direction. The missile has networking capability to receive initial and mid-course targeting information from other platforms such as aircraft or naval vessels. The Type 12 uses a Ka-band Active Electronically Scanned Array (AESA) radar along with GPS and inertial guidance to guide the missiles to their targets. The Type 12 currently has a range of about 124 miles (200 km) but the Japanese government plans to extend the range to 559 miles (900 km) by extending the missile wings and altitude the missile’s engine can operate. The government ultimately plans to extend the missile’s range to 932 miles (1,500 km) in the future. The new missile will also incorporate stealth characteristics to reduce its Radar Cross-Section and will have the capability to receive information updates while in flight to improve its accuracy. The improvements to the missiles are planned to be completed by Fiscal Year 2025.
Analysis: The new JGSDF base on Ishigaki Island is part of Japan’s ongoing plans for Japan to station both SSM and SAM units in the area as a response to China’s increasingly aggressive actions. Furthermore, the new base fits into the long-term plan for Japan to set up additional bases for Type 03 SAM and Type 12 SSM systems on Yonaguni, Miyako, and Amami Islands since 2016. Both systems will enable Japan to deny the PLAN the ability to freely operate in the vicinity of the islands in the event of a conflict with Taiwan or if China places a blockade around Taiwan. However, the base on Ishigaki is significant because it is the regional hub for not only the Yaeyama Islands but for the surrounding islands such as Miyako. The island will likely be used as a hub to spread units to the several islands that make up the Yaeyama and Miyako Island Chains.
Summary: The Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force recently stationed approximately 570 personnel at a recently constructed garrison located on Ishigaki Island in the southwestern Ryukyu (Nansei) Islands Chain. The troops are assigned to units that operate the Type 03 Medium-Range Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) and the Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile (SSM) systems. Ishigaki Island is a part of the Ryukyu Island consisting of 55 islands and islets that span at least 700 miles southwest of the island of Kyushu. The island is also the main island of the Yaeyama Island Group, a sub-chain of the Ryukyus, and is considered the region’s transportation hub. The island is close to the Senkaku Islands/Diaoyudao Islands, whose ownership is disputed between China and Japan. The dispute reignited due to Japan arresting a Chinese fishing vessel captain and Japan purchasing the islands in 2010 and 2012 respectively. One way China uses to exert pressure on Japan is to use the Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) and People’s Armed Forces Maritime Militia (PAFMM) vessels sail into the islands’ waters to protest Japanese claims. The CCG and PAFMM continued to sail around the waters surrounding the islands after tensions decreased in 2014. The new JGSDF base on Ishigaki Island is part of Japan’s ongoing plans for Japan to station both SSM and SAM units as a response to China’s increasingly aggressive actions in the area.
** Cory Bravo is a five-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps. He holds a degree in International Studies from Texas A&M University and studied extensively throughout China. Cory also spent time traveling throughout the Asia-Pacific region. He currently lives in the Austin Texas area but travels throughout the state and the southwestern United States.
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