Procurement: The Politics Of Japanese Support For Ukraine


March 31, 2023: Japan had an unusual, for Japan, reaction to the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine. In 2014, when Russia took Crimea and parts of two eastern Ukrainian provinces, the Japanese response was rather mild. This was because Japan did not want to antagonize Russia, which shared a sea border off northern Japan. In 2014 Japan feared any Japanese use of the strong sanctions imposed on Russia would lead to Russia and China cooperating in opposing Japan. In 2014 Russia was not on particularly good terms with China and Japan preferred to keep it that way.

Japanese policy changed in 2022 when Japan fully embraced harsh Western economic sanctions on Russia and considered supplying military assistance to Ukraine. Opinion polls in Japan showed strong support for such military aid. What stopped this were changes to Japan’s post-World War II constitution that prohibited exporting weapons. Now Japan can do that, but not to nations engaged in a war. Japanese attitudes saw the Russian aggression in Ukraine as similar to what China threatens against Taiwan. Japan has become part of an informal alliance with South Korea, the Philippines and other nations threatened by Chinese claims to the South China Sea. The Japanese public wants a stronger response to Chinese and Russian threats.

Russia has long been particularly aggressive against Japan and potential threats to Russian Pacific Coast territories. For example, in 2021, after a decade of effort Russia finally completed its coast defense rebuilding program. This was mainly about installing Bastion-P coastal defense missile batteries on Sakhalin Island. Sakhalin is 43 kilometers from Hokkaido, the northernmost of the Japanese home islands. The waters between them are called the La Perouse Strait, which is the passage between the Russian dominated Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan. The strait is closed up to four months a year by ice and transit by submerged submarines is difficult because of strong currents and relatively shallow (as little as 51 meters) depth. The eastern part of the Sea of Okhotsk is covered by the Kamchatka Peninsula, which already had Bastion-P batteries installed. That provides coastal defense extending into Arctic waters. The southernmost region of the Russian Far East, containing the port of Vladivostok and the most densely populated portion of the Russian Far East, was always well defended. This Pacific coast region is huge, at seven million square kilometers. That is almost the size of the continental United States, but only has a population of 8.3 million. While the Far East region contains 40 percent of Russian territory and less than six percent of Russia’s population, it also contains many naval and ballistic missile bases as well as ports that provide the cheapest way to get goods from the rest of Russia to the Far East. The Trans-Siberian Railroad alone cannot support the population and economy of the Far East. That explains the importance of defending the Far East from naval attack.

From the 1970s to the 1990s Russian coastal areas in the north and along the Baltic, Black Sea and Pacific coasts were guarded by mobile and fixed batteries of Rubezh missiles. These were 2.5 ton solid-fuel cruise missiles that only had a range of 80 kilometers and much less capable guidance systems than the 21st century Bastion system. Although the Rubezh missiles underwent upgrades through the 1980s, all that stopped in the 1990s after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The government later revealed that by 2000 Russian coasts were largely undefended and it was with great urgency that work began on developing the Bastion system.

By 2010 Bastion was in production and the first priority was the northern, Baltic and Black Sea coasts. Finally, in mid-2016 Russia deployed at least one battery of Bastion-P (K-300P or SSC-5) land based anti-ship missiles in the Kuril Islands, a chain of 56 small islands that extend over a thousand kilometers from Sakhalin Island to the Kamchatka Peninsula. Up until 1945 Japan controlled four of the Kuril Islands closest to Sakhalin. Russia took these four islands from Japan after World War II and Japan wants them back. The presence of Bastion-P coastal defense missiles on these islands reminds Japan that they are not getting the islands back.

The three-ton K-300P missiles used by Bastion have a range of 600 kilometers and a 250 kg (550 pound) warhead. Russia says the Bastion-P uses composites for the casing, making it stealthier, as in harder for radar to spot and track. The stealth is important because after launch the missile initially travels at high altitude (nearly 10,000 meters/30,000 feet) where radar can spot it. But at that altitude the missile can move faster (maximum speed of 3,000 kilometers an hour). Speed makes it harder to intercept and means it takes five minutes or less to reach its target. Guidance is GPS or inertial to reach the general area of the target, which is usually a ship or other small target, then radar (in the anti-ship version) that will identify the specific target and hit it. For its final approach, the missile drops to an altitude of five meters (16 feet) to make it more difficult to spot and stop. The high speed at impact causes additional damage because of the weight of the entire missile.

A Bastion-P battery consists of one or two control vehicles, a support vehicle, four launcher vehicles (each with two missiles in separate canisters) and four reload vehicles. Minimal deployment would be one launcher vehicle and one command vehicle. Several models of 6x6 trucks are used for the command, launcher, support and reload vehicles.

Six years before Bastion-P entered service, the Bal coastal defense missile system was deployed. This was something of an interim coast defense system that used the 670 kg Kh-35 anti-ship missile. This was the Russian answer to the American Harpoon missile and is still used on ships and carried by aircraft. Originally Bal used the early version of Kh-35, which had a range of 130 kilometers. Not much later these were supplemented or replaced by the latest, 260-kilometer version of Kh-35. Because these missiles were smaller and lighter, each launcher vehicle carried eight of them. In the Far East the Bastion system is preferred because much longer coastlines are involved. But for key areas, like major ports or naval bases, the Bal system is useful.

Bastion-P is another variant of the Yakhont (3M55, Oniks and P-800), a design that was able to complete development with an investment from India. This partnership produced the BrahMos for India while Russian used the new BrahMos tech to perfect the 3M55. While officially entering service in 1999, the 3M55 was not really ready for action until BrahMos development was completed in 2006. Because of that it wasn’t until 2010 that Bastion-P entered service. Before deliveries were completed in the Far East Bastion-P was stationed in Crimea and sold to Syria and Vietnam. Russia also plans to install one Bastion-S system in the Far East. Bastion-S is a stationary system with the missiles stored and launched from underground silos. Bastion-S makes sense in the Far East where there are not a lot of roads for launcher vehicles to use and military bases are fewer and larger compared to western Russia.

All these coastal defense systems rely on other target data from aircraft, ships, satellites or land-based radars.

Japan got Russia’s attention with energetic enforcement of the 2022 sanctions. In the past Japan was a source of tech and components used by Russian commercial and military equipment. That ended in 2022 and only added to the isolation Russia is now experiencing. Russia lost most of its active duty ground forces and their armored vehicles in Ukraine and has run out of high-speed guided missiles to use against Ukraine. The Bastion-P missiles are still on the Pacific Coast, if only because Japan is seen as a threat, not a patsy.




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