Japan Institute for National Fundamentals

Speaking out

Fumio Ota

【#265】Japan’s Role to Strike Weaknesses of PLA Navy

Fumio Ota / 2014.09.25 (Thu)

September 22, 2014

     On September 19, I learned from a presentation by Dr. Toshi Yoshihara, professor of the U.S. Naval War College. Titled "Japan's Future Role in Maritime Asia," the speech concluded that Japan's effective competitive strategy against the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy's maritime expansion is to contain PLA Naval units within the so-called first island chain until an offensive U.S. operation by deploying anti-ship missiles of the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) as well as submarines, laying mines and conducting guerilla warfare by fast attack boats along Japan’s southwestern island chain.
     China is fearful of its navy being contained within the first island chain linking Japan’s southwestern island chain, Taiwan, the Philippines and Indonesia, as indicated by concerns expressed last June by the Chinese Foreign Ministry as well as major defense think tanks, when a plan to deploy anti-ship missiles of GSDF along the southwestern chain of islands was reported by Japanese media.

Competitive strategy is based on Sun Tzu, The Art of War
     The competitive strategy was developed during the Cold War for the West to strike by its strengths against the Soviet weaknesses. The Pentagon's Net Assessment Office still maintains the strategy against China. The strategy is based on Chapter 6 of Sun Tzu, The Art of War. In the chapter, Weakness and Strengths, Sun Tzu stated, "Avoids strength and strikes weakness." This means an asymmetric warfare in which we strike by its strengths against the opponent's weaknesses.
     The PLA Navy's weaknesses are the underwater warfare such as anti-submarine and anti-mine, while the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) has been strong in such capabilities since its establishment. The MSDF's strength can be combined with its missile boats and the GSDF's planned deployment of anti-ship missiles along the southwestern island chain to achieve synergy effects.
     During World War II, however, even the Japanese Imperial Navy failed to obtain enough mines to block the U.S. Navy's penetration into the East China Sea, as planned around 1944 by Admiral Koshiro Oikawa, then Commander-In-Chief of the Maritime Escort. The deployment of submarines may have to be considered over wider area such as the Miyako Strait for their effective combination with mines in other area of southwestern island chain.

Vertical and horizontal development should be needed
     As the GSDF's search and surveillance capability over the East China Sea is limited, Japan will have to depend on Maritime as well as Air SDF aircraft and national intelligence satellites. In this sense, not only the jointness among the Ground, Maritime and Air SDFs but also their vertical cooperation with national intelligence organizations would be tested.
     At the same time, along the first island chain beyond Japan’s southwestern islands, Japan should cooperate with other maritime nations such as Taiwan, the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia to horizontally expand the China containment. Such cooperation is particularly important for containing Jin-class ballistic missile nuclear submarines (SSBN) deployed at Hainan Island as current JL-2 ballistic missiles planned for these submarines fall short of reaching the continental United States (CONUS) from the South China Sea and these submarines would have to deploy into the Pacific to attack the CONUS.

Dr. Fumio Ota is retired Vice Admiral of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force and a member of the Planning Committee, Japan Institute for National Fundamentals