Late last month, the US Department of Defense (DoD), the US Air Force and the US Missile Defense Agency (MDA) announced a plan to use F-35s to track and destroy enemy ballistic missiles during their rapid ascent – the “boost phase.”
This is an entirely new role for the F-35, and is not without controversy. So far, neither Japan nor South Korea, which both face a North Korean missile threat, and which both have orders in process for F35s, has commented.
The most expensive warplane ever, each F-35A costs more than US$89 million. The F-35B version, outfitted for vertical take-offs and landings, is even more expensive at more than $115 million per plane. And each F-35C, which can fly from aircraft carriers, costs more than $107 million.
“The F-35 Lightning II has a capable sensor system that can detect the infrared signature of a boosting missile,” stated the 2019 Missile Defense Review (MDR). “(An F-35) can be equipped with a new or modified interceptor capable of shooting down adversary ballistic missiles in their boost phase and could be surged rapidly to hotspots to strengthen US active defense capabilities and attack operations.”
In late January, Lt Gen Samuel Greaves, Director of the MDA, and others spoke about Japan’s important role in jointly developing new interceptors. Japan’s ability to deliver interceptors in general that tend to exceed rather than just meet specified performance criteria was highlighted.
Japan co-developed the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor with the US, which is just starting to be deployed. The MDA plans to test an SM-3 Block IIA missile against a ballistic missile target in 2020, according to the MDR, although it does not specify an F-35 as the launch platform for this test.
Still, critics of missile boost phase intercepts abound.
The Federation of American Scientists has consistently challenged the feasibility of boost-phase intercepts, in general, and views this attempt to use the F-35s for this purpose as faulty at best.
And for an aircraft to take down a missile in flight, there are multiple variables in play. According to Garren Mulloy, Associate Professor of International Relations at Japan’s Daito Bunka University in Saitama, these include radar capabilities, processor capabilities, network capabilities, aircraft endurance for loiter patrols, range to the loiter area, speed for emergency reactions and the number of and capabilities of missiles carried.
A potential game changer
Still, some experts are cautiously upbeat.
“This use of fighter and missile to take on ballistic missiles in the boost phase has been considered and tested in recent years,” Professor Narushige Michishita, director of the security and international studies program at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo, told Asia Times. “The F-15 has a better payload, but the F-35 has better information capability and stealth.”
If the concept is, indeed, feasible, there could be plentiful potential buyers of the capability in Northeast Asia, which brims with ballistic missile threats.
“If this technology and specific operational concept prove effective, that could have a significant impact on North Korea,” Narushige said.
“Air-launched boost-phase interceptors would certainly enhance deterrence capabilities against North Korea and China,” added Ryo Hinata-Yamaguchi, visiting professor at Pusan National University in South Korea. “[But] whether an F-35 can be truly effective in intercepting ballistic missiles at their boost-phase near or within the adversary’s proximity is questionable at this point.”
But the F-35 may not be the ideal aircraft for the role. “While the F-35’s network capabilities stand out, it is below par in most other areas,” Mulloy said, referring to the requirements noted above. “An F-15 or F-22 would be the best option.”
The ship-based F-35Bs which are expected to be assigned to Japan’s Izumo-class helicopter destroyers – which are undergoing feasibility studies for conversion to actual aircraft carriers – are even less suited. “The F-35B is the least capable version with the shortest range, least endurance, least payload capacity, and, is least capable in terms of speed and climb,” Mulloy said.
Budget, strategy constraints
Meanwhile, Japan’s defense budget is facing massive strains, given upcoming purchases.
By fiscal 2025, two Aegis Ashore ground-based missile interceptor systems will be installed in Japan at a cost of $2.5 billion. In addition, Japan has leapfrogged Israel to become Lockheed Martin’s largest global F-35 customer, after announcing it would be expanding its purchase from 42 to 147 F-35s.
“Japan’s defense budget is cash-based annual appropriations only. Even under the current proposed spending plan, Japan is facing budget difficulties,” said William Brooks, an adjunct professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Advanced International Studies in Washington. “So there is a practical limit to Tokyo’s willingness to comply with Washington’s full-court press to buy expensive US aircraft and other military equipment.”
Japan’s new National Defense Program Guidelines serve as a further obstacle to effective missile defense.
An attempt last year to modify them to allow for an attack by Japan on enemy missile sites fell apart after the ruling Liberal Democratic Partys’s coalition partner, the Komeito, rejected the proposal.
“Under the guidelines, which look ahead for 10 years, the Self Defense Forces must focus solely on the defense of Japan and leave the role of attacking enemy bases to the US,” said Brooks. “If the North Korean missile threat to Japan is not diminished by the upcoming US[-North Korea] negotiations on nuclear and missile programs, Japan then would have to reconsider its current BMD capabilities to meet a saturation-attack scenario.”
Wonderful items from you, man. I’ve keep in mind your stuff previous to and you’re just extremely great. I actually like what you’ve received right here, really like what you’re stating and the way in which wherein you are saying it. You’re making it entertaining and you continue to care for to stay it smart. I cant wait to learn far more from you. This is really a terrific website.
certainly like your website but you need to check the spelling on quite a few of your posts. Several of them are rife with spelling issues and I find it very bothersome to tell the truth nevertheless I will surely come back again.
Wow, amazing blog layout! How long have you been blogging for? you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your site is fantastic, let alone the content!
Thanks for the various tips contributed on this web site. I have observed that many insurance companies offer consumers generous discounts if they prefer to insure several cars with them. A significant volume of households currently have several vehicles these days, particularly people with old teenage kids still dwelling at home, plus the savings with policies can easily soon increase. So it is a good idea to look for a great deal.
Thank you for the good writeup. It in fact used to be a leisure account it. Glance complex to more introduced agreeable from you! However, how could we communicate?
Awesome post. Keep writing.
I loved your post. Will read on…
I am really loving the theme/design of your weblog.
Do you ever run into any browser compatibility problems? A few of my blog readers have
complained about my blog not working correctly in Explorer but looks great in Chrome.
Do you have any ideas to help fix this issue?
I’m not that much of a online reader to be honest but your blogs really nice, keep it up! I’ll go ahead and bookmark your site to come back down the road. Cheers
Terrific work! This is the kind of info that are meant to be shared across the web. Shame on Google for not positioning this submit higher! Come on over and seek advice from my web site . Thanks =)
I have been exploring for a little bit for any high quality articles or weblog posts on this kind of space . Exploring in Yahoo I ultimately stumbled upon this web site. Reading this info So i am glad to exhibit that I have an incredibly excellent uncanny feeling I discovered exactly what I needed. I most indisputably will make sure to do not overlook this website and provides it a look on a relentless basis.
It’s very straightforward to find out any matter on web as
compared to textbooks, as I found this article at this website.
Howdy would you mind stating which blog platform you’re using? I’m planning to start my own blog soon but I’m having a tough time selecting between BlogEngine/Wordpress/B2evolution and Drupal. The reason I ask is because your layout seems different then most blogs and I’m looking for something unique. P.S Sorry for being off-topic but I had to ask!
Good day! I could have sworn I’ve been to this website before but
after browsing through some of the post I realized it’s new
to me. Anyways, I’m definitely delighted I found it and I’ll be
bookmarking and checking back often!
Hey there! I know this is kinda off topic but I was wondering which blog platform
are you using for this website? I’m getting tired of Wordpress because I’ve had
issues with hackers and I’m looking at alternatives for another
platform. I would be great if you could point me in the direction of a
I blog often and I seriously thank you for your information. Your article has truly
peaked my interest. I will bookmark your blog and keep checking for new details about once per week.
I opted in for your RSS feed too.
It’s an remarkable piece of writing in support of all the online
users; they will obtain advantage from it I am sure.
That is the fitting weblog for anyone who desires to find out about this topic. You understand so much its almost laborious to argue with you (not that I truly would want…HaHa). You undoubtedly put a new spin on a subject thats been written about for years. Great stuff, simply great!
Leave a comment