At what point is defending Japan no longer worth it?

Friday, September 6th, 2019

At what point is defending Japan no longer worth it?, T. Greer asks:

We are in a very grim situation in the West Pacific. If a war started tomorrow there is no guarantee the United States would win it. In fact, unless China started this war already a bit spent in other engagements (say, with Taiwan) it is quite certain we would lose the initial battles.

His new piece out in Foreign Policy explains:

Ten years ago the PLA had fewer than 100 cruise or ballistic missiles capable of targeting U.S. air bases in Japan; according to the U.S. Department of Defense’s most recent report on the PLA, they now have around 1,000 ballistic or land-attack cruise missiles with this capability.

Missiles like these fly at extreme speeds. In a potential conflict, the first wave would arrive in Japan 6 to 9 minutes after being launched from mobile missile launchers scattered across China. This wave’s target list would include anti-missile and air defense systems, command centers, and communication systems. A review of PLA documents by Ian Easton and Oriana Skylar Mastro reveal a special focus on targeting runways of American bases in Japan. With runways cratered, American aircraft would be stranded, sitting ducks for the next wave of inbound missiles.

Simulations of these attacks are nauseating. In a 2017 report for the Center for a New American Security, Tom Shugart and Javier Gonzales conclude that the missile defense systems of every single American air and naval base in Japan would be overwhelmed by the PLA Rocket Force’s very first volley. They estimate that more than 200 aircraft, almost all fixed American command centers, every U.S. runway, and most of the American fleet at berth would be destroyed—tens of billions of dollars in military equipment gone in less than 30 minutes of fighting. Recent Rand Corp. war games found similar results. In response to the games, former Deputy Secretary of Defense Robert Work offered a caustic assessment: “In every case I know of, the F-35 rules the sky when it’s in the sky, but it gets killed on the ground in large numbers.”

There is a very real chance that America’s front-line forces would be crippled in the first moments of a conflict with China.


  1. CVLR says:

    Mr. Greer may be aided in his thinking if he is able to break free of the mind-vice whose knurling is expressed in such phrases as “defense alliance” and “the Japanese will never allow this”. America has militarily occupied Japan continuously since it exacted an unconditional surrender following the deployment of the Doomsday Device on two Japanese cities and the threat of the continuation of such deployments indefinitely.

    Militarily, it seems to me that technological developments will continue to move the “smash” part of warfare out of the realm of slow-moving and ground-vulnerable aircraft and into the realms of subterranean and submarine rockets and missiles, and space-based kinetic and directed energy weaponry. “Grab” will probably consist of dudes with guns until Skynet Droids are a practical reality.

    All wars are economic in nature, and the intense territoriality of past empires revolved around increasing the energy in the system by increasing the agricultural tax base. This was disintermediated first with the Industrial Revolution, which reoriented the collection of energy from plants to oil, causing the Great German Ascension and setting off the World Wars, the Second of which was itself fought largely over proprietorship of Baku. The competition of the present increasingly revolves around nuclear, which can serve as the root of an economy independent of the fragile oil-based supply chain, and intelligence, which will take the twin forms of AI and genetic engineering, and possibly (probably) the two in concert.

    You heard it here first: things are about to get very weird.

  2. ASM826 says:

    If Japan ever gets the idea we aren’t providing their defense, they will build nukes. It is estimated they would have operational weapons and delivery systems in 6 months.

  3. Slovenian Guest says:

    Unlikely, because in any such or even slightly similar scenario, the American public would demand nuclear retaliation!

    China must know that if they sink one American warship, they will be iced.

    As in turned into desert glass.

  4. Longarch says:

    I believe the security of Japan is linked to the security of Taiwan. I am sad to say that Japan has no military bases on Taiwan. I am surprised to note that Japan has not been building artificial islands to conduct an arms race with China’s artificial island military bases. Perhaps the Japanese are waiting for the Americans to tell them to build artificial islands, but the Americans are distracted.

    China could only take Taiwan if they could land troops. If China gets its collection of boats to the point where it can function as a real navy, then China would be wise to blockade Taiwan before moving its troopships. I believe the Americans assume that their navy could establish control of the Taiwan Strait very quickly, but I do not know whether they can.

    I believe Taiwan would be wise to develop unmanned vehicles capable of long loiter times, much like the American UAVs. However, in Taiwan’s case, unmanned submarine vehicles with torpedoes would be better than UAVs with rockets.

  5. Kirk says:

    If it comes down to actual combat between China and its neighbors, mass alone will rule the day. Initially. After the opening phases, though…?

    I think the Chinese have a swiftly closing window within which to act, and then we’re going to see the results of what happens when an elite tries to take too much control over the populace.

    The end-state for this “social credit” gambit of the CCP is what should concern the China-watcher; the side-effects of China suffering a fall of centralized authority are more worrying than anything they might do in the South China Sea.

    The thing that the Chinese elites miss is that what they’re actually doing is creating an entire sub-class which has absolutely nothing to lose. At the same time, they’re also creating a system whose subornation is virtually guaranteed, given the Chinese proclivity for routing around the government. Even the authority of the Emperor and the Chinese mandarin class availed them of nothing in the face of market demand for silver and opium. Ideological purity and effort only lasts for, at most, a generation–And, then the next generation is fully embedded into the corruption. You cannot regulate or legislate virtue, and when your foundation is laid over something like the CCP or the Cultural Revolution, well… Yeah. It won’t last. It can’t.

    They’ve got a limited window for success, defined as not sinking back into the mire that was China in the 19th Century. They’re wasting that window’s opportunities on ephemera like controlling Hong Kong’s internal politics over petty visuals. Reaching to take control of Hong Kong and Taiwan will likely create so many internal fracture lines that it will guarantee the destruction of China as we know it within less than a generation, with all that implies.

    There are other issues, too–Like this swine ebola that’s wiping out the pork industry in China and elsewhere in Eurasia. Right time, right place in the economy, and China is done for. If the CCP can’t feed the population, what do you suppose happens to the Mandate of Heaven for the CCP?

    We’re in the midst of a replay of the same idiocy that had everyone thinking that the Japanese were going to rule the world back during the 1980s and 1990s: Everyone looked at the strengths, and extrapolated from there. Nobody looked at the actual issues, and grasped that there were structural problems with the whole shoddy edifice. Japan is only now pulling out of the Lost Decades that their hubris got for them, and they have yet to deal with their falling population. China is in a similar bind; in different ways.

    The root problem is that every time a regime tries to “plan its way forward”, fate and circumstance step in to screw everything up. Planners thought that the One Child policy was a great idea; where are they now? Oh, yeah… Same set of idiots are now running other key parts of the Chinese economy, whose numbers are so flaky that even the CCP doesn’t trust them. The whole thing is another example of human arrogance and hubris–And, like all such examples, Nemesis is lurking backstage, just as she did for the Soviets and Nazis. Planned economies simply do not work, nor do any planned social schemes like this “Social Credit” BS–There are always going to be “unforeseeable” second- and third-order effects that will munge things up past the point where those carefully-planned systems can cope with them.

  6. Adar says:

    Presumably there will be a period of tension and a worrisome condition before fighting begins? A crisis. Aircraft can be dispersed to a dozen[s] or more airfields or moved away from the area most closest to where the action will be.

  7. Graham says:

    My first thought as well, but then you get into the whole diplomatic, internal to US government, and also played-out-in-the-media-and-public farce about whether or not the US should disperse forces because that would be seen by China as a provocative step.

    Not that this wouldn’t be a valid consideration with all sorts of roots in traditional diplomatic and strategic thinking, but the way it would play out in any contemporary US leadership, let alone public debate, would enstupidate the whole thought process. And it would all be carried out on CNN and Twitter.

    By doing anything that constituted a first move, China would gain initiative and put the US collective mind into that emotional virtue spiral in which the other side is always acting normally but the US reaction is provocative. The postmodern way of stealing a march.

    Other thought- the US has a track record of forward deploying expensive military assets into dangerous positions and then keeping them concentrated in the forward zone without dispersal, even in periods of max tension. One thinks of Pearl Harbour and [even more forward] Clark Field.

    Not that there were many or any other places capable of hosting Pacific Fleet heavy units as far forward as Hawaii and not absurdly far from a potential battle zone [Samoa seems too far south and Pago Pago probably had no infrastructure save the anchorage itself]. But the problem of the failure to disperse air assets in the Philippines has been widely discussed.

  8. Kirk says:

    Graham, do not try to impose ideas of forethought or historical precedent on the US military’s planning, basing, or much of anything. It’s all expediencies of the moment, and nothing else.

    There are people in the US military who look at things and project from history and current conditions/events. The problem is that those people are almost never, ever in charge. Of anything.

    And, once we get burned well and thoroughly, well… None of those people ever get put in charge of fixing things, either. Look at all the pre-WWII stuff like what happened to Billy Mitchell, or any of the other guys who projected the likelihood and manner of a Pearl Harbor attack. Hell, you can find perfect outlines in American planning for what the Japanese did, and we did it even better than they did–It’s just that nobody listened to the people making those projections, or acted on them.

    Same thing will happen again, and the same sort of result will accrue. If the Chinese are foolish enough to wager their fate on the battlefield, well… Yeah. Opening will be ugly, for the US. After that? If we have the resources left, we’ll wise up and start doing what needs to be done, and do it right.

    Until the next time. We seem to require this sort of thing, because we don’t pay attention to much of anything else besides the blackjack to the metaphoric skull…

  9. Sam J. says:

    “…Perhaps the Japanese are waiting for the Americans to tell them to build artificial islands, but the Americans are distracted…”

    Imagine the energy cost to build the Island(target) that just sits there and then imagine an aircraft carrier made of concrete large enough to land jumbo jets on it that can freely move about. Which one would be more efficient? Which would be ore useful? Cost could be estimated by comparing the cost of a Hoover Dams worth of concrete.

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