Thursday, October 25, 2012

New Clear Nippon

The land of backward comics, Harijuku Girls, and cool robots - Japan is HOT! Instead of scary missiles and secret police - Japan built a fun, rich democratic tech saavy, tolerant, egalitarian society with a free, uncensored press, transparent, periodic elections, and independent judiciary that hasn't bothered anyone in over six decades.

A literacy rate of over 99%, Nippon is a wonderful example of the human spirit unbound.

Japan has been a long time ally of Great Satan for eons -- and has the world's second (or third, based on purchasing power parity) largest economy, 2nd biggest contributer to UN, yet Tokyo remains dependent on America for its security, a minor military player despite having global economic and political interests.

That was the 'Golden Age"

It is certainly true that nuclear weapons are no longer the third rail of Japanese politics -- a topic officials and pundits dare not touch lest it strike them (politically) dead. But Japan's painful past experience as a target of atomic warfare, its ardent sponsorship of nonproliferation accords, and the fury with which pacifist-leaning citizens and Japan's Asian neighbors would greet evidence of a bombmaking program add up to a forbidding political barrier. That barrier is hardly unbreachable, but it would demand quite a feat of political persuasion on Tokyo's part. 

A nuclear triad -- land- and sea-based missiles combined with weapons delivered by manned bombers -- holds little promise in light of Japan's lack of geographic depth and the vulnerability of surface ships and aircraft to enemy action. That means fielding an undersea deterrent would be Tokyo's best nuclear option. But doing so would be far from easy. 

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force operates an impressive fleet of diesel submarines but has no experience with naval nuclear propulsion. And that leaves aside the difficulty of developing sea-launched ballistic missiles and their nuclear payloads.

Such engineering challenges are far from insoluble for Japan's scientific-technical complex but cannot be conquered overnight. A force of nuclear-powered ballistic-missile subs, or SSBNs, thus looks like a remote prospect for Japan. As an interim solution, the JMSDF might construct cruise missiles resembling the U.S. Navy's old TLAM-Ns, or nuclear-tipped Tomahawks. JMSDF boats could fire such missiles through torpedo tubes, the easiest method. Or, shipyards could backfit Japanese subs with vertical launchers -- much as the U.S. Navy installed Tomahawk launchers in its fast attack boats starting in the late Cold War.

The problem of constructing nuclear weapons small enough to fit on a missile would remain -- but nuclear-armed diesel boats would represent a viable course of action should Japan decide to join the nuclear-weapons club. Years down the road, then -- not overnight -- a modest Japanese nuclear deterrent might put out to sea.

 Pic - "The prospect no longer appears unthinkable."