China is working on the world’s first anti-ship ballistic missile, according to some defense analysts. Tobias Harris writes that the ASBM may be based on an existing missile that has a range of 1,800 km, and he notes that such a missile would threaten U.S. ships based in Japan.
While it may be hard to target a ship at sea, he writes, minimal effort would be needed to learn of a ship’s landing at U.S. bases in Japan. Tobias writes:
The question I have is whether the Chinese ASBM will render US naval forward deployments in Japan obsolete, in that homeporting an aircraft carrier in Yokosuka may leave it vulnerable to a crippling first strike before even leaving port. Are anti-ballistic missile deployments in Japan — both by the US military and the Japanese Self-Defense Forces — reliable enough to protect US forces while in Japanese ports?
If not, hadn’t the US and Japan be having a serious discussion about the impact of China’s ASBMs on the future of US forward deployments in Japan, and with them, the future of the US-Japan alliance? Should the US consider relocating more assets from Japan to Guam to put them out of the range of ASBMs?
Of course, many in Japan are not enthusiastic about the U.S. military’s continued presence. Both advocates of Japanese military independence (not likely any time soon) and those opposed to U.S. military actions have spoken up. If this strategic environment were realigned by a new type of missile, perhaps they would be happier.
My question, however, is What are the implications for the U.S. if basing in Japan were reduced and ships in the western Pacific had to launch from bases like Guam and Hawaii? Would this strain the situation with Taiwan? Would it make it more difficult for U.S. ships to be in the neighborhood for humanitarian aid during catastrophes like the 2004 Tsunami?
As Tobias notes, U.S. ships can increase their readiness for this type of attack, but resources would be diverted from other functions.