Toshio Tamogami

Fumiko Halloran at the National Bureau of Asian Research has a review of General Toshio Tamogami’s new book, Tamogami’s National Military Force. Tamogami is a former Chief of Staff of the Air Self Defense Force who was sacked in 2008 following the publication of an essay he wrote which dumped blame for the U.S. – Japan Pacific War into the laps of FDR, Chiang Kai-Shek and communist spies. In retirement Tamogami has since fallen in with the right-wing crowd in Japan, whose platform typically consists pinning World War II on China and communists, Japan’s acquisition of nuclear weapons, and a general Japanese rearmament that goes beyond the current defense-only policy.

Tamogami wants Japanese rearmament. He wants a nuclear deterrent  for Japan. He wants nuclear propulsion for ships. He wants cruise missiles to strike, for example, North Korean missile launch pads. He wants aircraft carriers, and big ones at that. In short, he wants all of the things most of the G-8 countries already have, but which are exactly the sort of thing that the Japanese government and public strongly oppose.

[Before this gets mischaracterized, it needs to be emphasized that Tamogami and his kind are far outside of the mainstream of Japanese politics, and the overall defense posture they are advocating has little public and governmental support. Many of these are not realistic goals in Japan's political environment, now and into the foreseeable future. This article is meant to give readers an idea of what the Japanese Right wants.]

Tamogami’s book, available only in Japanese, spells out a new defense posture for Japan, one that is less reliant on the protection of the United States. Tamogami wants:

1. Japan to have the right to collective self-defense.

2. Japan to acquire a conventional retaliatory capability, i.e. Tomahawk-type cruise missiles placed on destroyers.

3. Build aircraft carriers, strategic bombers, and ship-to-shore missiles.

4. Acquire nuclear weapons, both for deterrence value and to increase Japan’s international standing.

5. Add 20,000 amphibious troops for defense of the Senkakus and other islands.

6. Increase Japan’s intelligence-gathering capabilities.

7. Make Japan an arms exporter.

Some of these ideas, such as acquiring a conventional retaliatory capability, adding amphibious troops, and increasing Japan’s intelligence capability are quite reasonable, even arguably necessary. Some, like adding amphibious troops, Japan is already doing. Others, like nuclear weapons are quite impossible at this point. It’s a clever mix of the done, the doable, the undesirable, and the unthinkable. Having spent a career in the Self Defense Forces, Tamogami is likely under few illusions as to what is politically feasible. Still, he’s getting ideas out there, inserting unpalatable ideas in with palatable ones.

Let’s look at Tamogami’s big three programs, Japanese Aircraft Carriers, Japanese Strategic Bombers, and Japanese Ballistic Missile Submarines.

USS Gerald R. Ford. Artist's depiction.

JCV (Japan Aircraft Carrier)

Tamogami wants three aircraft carriers, and he estimates that the total cost to field them would be ¥6.06 trillion yen, or $71 billion dollars USD. Tamogami apparently explains his cost analysis in the book, but lacking a copy of the book, we can speculate and come up with a pretty good idea of what he has in mind. Tamogami budgets three aircraft carriers:

Aircraft Carrier #1: ¥900 Billion ($10.8 billion USD)
Carrier Air Wing #1: ¥500 Billion ($6 billion USD)

Aircraft Carrier #2: ¥900 Billion
Carrier Air Wing #2: ¥500 Billion

Aircraft Carrier #3: ¥900 Billion
Carrier Air Wing #3: ¥500 Billion

Total procurement costs for the carriers is thus ¥4.2 trillion, leaving ¥1.86 trillion ($21.6 billion USD) for research and development. That’s a healthy amount, and should be considering it would have to cover R&D for a whole host of technologies that make up a modern carrier.

How big a ship are we talking about?  ¥900 billion is, in January 2011 dollars, approximately $10.8 billion USD. USS Gerald Ford, the U.S. Navy’s next supercarrier, is projected to cost approximately $14 billion USD. On the lower end of the carrier scale, HMS Queen Elizabeth is projected to cost $5.7 billion USD. JCV is somewhere in-between.

HMS Queen Elizabeth. Artist's depiction.

The carrier air wing also gives us some clues.  Each CAW is allocated ¥500 Billion. That is, in January 2011 dollars, approximately $6 billion USD.

$6 billion dollars could buy the following:

  • 50 F-35 fighters at $100 million per unit ($5.0 billionUSD)
  • 8 SH-60 helicopters at $32 million per unit ($250 millionUSD)
  • 2 C-2 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery transport  at $38 million per unit ($76 millionUSD)
  • 4 E-2C Hawkeye airborne early warning aircraft at $80 million per unit ($320 millionUSD)

64 aircraft is a pretty respectable air wing, somewhere in-between Ford and Queen Elizabeth. The projected cost of the carrier is also somewhere in-between the two, so our air wing sounds like it’s on the right track.

What would these carriers be for? Tamogami seems to be thinking about power projection. It’s difficult to say, however, how, why, and where that power would be projected. Most of the Pacific is an American lake, and Japan’s sea lanes are already protected free of charge by American aircraft carriers. Japan hasn’t articulated vital interests abroad it would defend with force, doesn’t subscribe to collective security, and doesn’t have an interventionist foreign policy.

In reality, these carriers would probably be stationed much closer to home, to provide air cover over parts of the Japanese archipelago claimed by other countries and far from the protection of the Home Islands. This includes the Senkakus, islands such as Okinotorishima, and perhaps even the Northern Territories/Southern Kurils.

The question is: would this massive expense of treasure be worth the expense? Is it worth $71 billion USD just to put 150 strike fighters and 24 ASW helicopters at sea?  Is it worth it to put one third of the MSDF’s current personnel strength on three hulls? Add in escorts and support vessels, and we’re looking at perhaps 14,000 people. The math puts 100 MSDF personnel at risk for every fighter put in the air.

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B-2 Bomber. Artist's depiction.

JSB (Japan Strategic Bomber)

Tamogami also wants strategic bombers, and has budgeted ¥500 billion yen ($5.4 billion USD) for ten bombers. Presumably JSB would be stealthy and dual use, capable of acting as a strategic nuclear deterrent and a conventional bomber.

It’s difficult to say how realistic this is, as only one country — the United States — has built a new strategic bomber in the last twenty years. Tamogami realizes that JSB would be extremely expensive to develop and field, and has budgeted generously.

Again, the question is: it worth it? Consider that it takes the U.S. Air Force an inventory of 20 B-2 stealth bombers to keep 4-5 in constant readiness. For ¥500 billion yen, Japan might be lucky to have 2-3 JSBs ready at any one time. In a strategic nuclear scenario versus China, that hardly seems worthwhile compared to the number of theoretical targets. Furthermore, the entirety of the Chinese air defense network would be concentrated against a very small number of Japanese bombers.

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Russian Borei-class SSBN. Artist's impression.

J-Boomer (Japan Ballistic Missile Submarine)

Finally, Tamogami wants a nuclear deterrent placed at sea. Three nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, plus submarine-launched ballistic missiles, are budgeted ¥7.54 trillion, or $88.7 billion USD. The U.S. Navy’s SSBN-X program, designed to replace the Ohio-class submarines, is only projected to cost $40 billion USD for 12-14 submarines.

¥7.54 trillion is a lot of money for only three boomers. Having said that, ballistic missile submarines are notoriously expensive, and Japan has never built one before.

Keep in mind though, J-Boomer will include many highly technical firsts for Japan.

  • Development of Japan’s first nuclear weapons, and a nuclear weapons program;
  • Development of a submarine-launched ballistic missile;
  • Development of a shipboard nuclear propulsion system.

If each boomer carries 16 SLBMs, that amounts to roughly $2.1 billion USD per missile put to sea. A very expensive proposition, indeed. But is there any alternative, such as missiles in land-based silos? Given Japan’s population density, it’s unlikely a land-based nuclear deterrent could be based on Japanese soil.


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Will General Tamogami get his arsenal? Not any time soon. Emphatically, not anytime soon. Although there may be a widespread distrust of China, there is little public interest in Tamogami’s plans. Japan is content to leave power projection and nuclear to deterrence to the Americans. (Not only are these tools of aggressive war, but consider what devastation strategic bombers wreaked on Japan.)

Aside from the lack of political will to field such programs, there is also a lack of money. Tamogami’s wish list has a price tag of $179 billion. This is almost four times the annual defense budget. This is clearly not possible within the existing budget framework, especially given Japan’s high public debt. To pay for it, Tamogami proposes a mixture of tax increases and elimination of government subsidies and entitlements. Raising taxes and eliminating entitlements to pay for weapons in peacetime is not popular in any country.

It should be said, though, that entire point of Tamogami’s rearmament program is not to pursue aggressive war, but to create a strong, independent Japan. These are all things that most of the G-8 countries, with the exception of Canada and Germany, have in their arsenals. No one disputes the UK’s right to have nuclear arms, or France’s right to have a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. These are all things that Japan would need were it responsible for its own defense and not under the protection of the United States.

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A contributor and editor at the blog War Is Boring, Kyle Mizokami started Japan Security Watch in 2010 to further understand Japan's defenses and security policy.
Kyle Mizokami has 596 post(s) on Japan Security Watch