Press Conferences

Extra Press Conference by Defense Minister Onodera (12:51-01:04 P.M. February 24, 2018)

Extra Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 12:51-01:04 P.M. February 24, 2018
Place: Ceremony hall for the deployment of the F-35A

(This is a provisional translation of an announcement by the Defense Minister and the Q&A session at the subsequent press conference for reference purposes only.)
The original text is in Japanese.

1. Announcements
Today, I attended the deployment ceremony for the F-35A and explained to the SDF personnel the significance of the deployment of this aircraft, which is the first stealth fighter to be introduced in Japan. I also had the opportunity to offer words of encouragement to the ASDF unit. I requested the members of the unit to work together in starting the operation of the F-35A, with flight safety as the prerequisite. I strongly hope that they will strive hard to develop the combat readiness of the F-35A at an early date. As the neighboring countries have been rapidly modernizing and reinforcing their air power, including fighter aircraft, in recent years, deploying the F-35A is very significant. The deployment is expected to strengthen not only our joint operation capability but also interoperability between Japan and the United States. The MOD will continue to steadily introduce the F-35A. At the end of the year, the revision of the National Defense Program Guidelines is scheduled to be made. We will appropriately study how our fighter aircraft should be deployed in the future. With the exclusively defense-oriented defense policy as the prerequisite, we will consider what defense capabilities will be really necessary in order to protect the Japanese people instead of thinking along the existing policy line. Next, concerning the dropping of the fuel tanks by an F-16 of the U.S. Air Force's Misawa Air Base, we have dispatched personnel from the Ominato District to the accident site, and they are now recovering the fuels. This morning, an object around three meters in length which is considered to be part of the fuel tank was recovered. I used this opportunity to visit Misawa to observe the site from the sky aboard an SDF helicopter and received a briefing on this accident from the commander of the U.S. Air Force's Misawa Air Base. I also received requests from the governor of Aomori Prefecture and talked with officials of relevant local governments. In the talks, I stated that accidents like this should never be allowed to happen as they would cause great anxiety among local people especially among fishermen and expressed our intention to conscientiously and appropriately deal with the damage suffered by fishermen after promptly investigating the damage status. In any case, thorough safety management is the prerequisite for flights for both the U.S. Forces and the SDF, so we will appropriately deal with this matter.

2. Questions and Answers

Question:
Concerning the strengthening of the air defense preparedness that you mentioned earlier, debate is being held in relation to the National Defense Program Guidelines. Specifically how do you intend to strengthen the posture of fighter aircraft and the air defense preparedness?

Minister:
Currently, the security situation surrounding Japan is becoming increasingly severe. In recent years, neighboring countries have rapidly been modernizing and reinforcing their air power, including fighter aircraft. Moreover, in the previous fiscal year, scrambling against aircraft intruding into territorial airspace was implemented by the SDF against Chinese aircraft as many as 851 times. Russia has also been stepping up military activities around Japan in recent years. This week, F-2 fighters scrambled from Misawa Air Base in response to a long-distance flight by two Russian strategic bombers from an area off Aomori to Okinawa. In consideration of these circumstances, we believe that it is a very important challenge from the viewpoint of ensuring the defense of Japan to strengthen Japan's air defense preparedness in a forward-looking manner while proceeding with the introduction of the F-35A, which is the most advanced aircraft. It is too early to mention specifically how the deployment of fighter should be developed in the future, but we will appropriately study this matter as part of the efforts to revise the National Defense Program Guidelines and formulate the next Mid-Term Defense Program by the end of this year.

Question:
In your speech, you also mentioned JSM. In relation to this long-range cruise missile, in the Diet, opposition parties are criticizing that its introduction may amount to acquisition of the capability to attack enemy bases. How are you going to proceed with its deployment and how will you respond to opposition parties' criticism?

Minister:
Under the government's budget draft for fiscal 2018, we have already allocated budgetary funds concerning JSM, which will be installed on the F-35A. In light of the increasingly severe security environment, we will introduce this stand-off missile in order to ensure effective defense of Japan while securing the safety of SDF personnel by enabling them to deal with an enemy from outside its threat zone when defending Japan at a time when other countries' air power is making remarkable advances. Acquiring the capability to attack enemy bases is not our purpose. As for the so-called capability to attack enemy bases, we rely on the U.S. strike capability under the division of roles between Japan and the United States. The government has no intention to change the existing basic division of roles between Japan and the United States, so this will remain unchanged when we introduce the stand-off missile.

Question:
I would like to ask you about the dropping of fuel tanks by the F-16 of the U.S. Forces onto Lake Ogawara. How do you feel about the fact that the U.S. Forces have continued flights since the day after the accident despite Tohoku Town's request for suspending flights until the cause of the accident is identified? Are you thinking of asking the U.S. Forces to meet the request? Also, how do you feel about the fact that the MSDF is undertaking the recovery of the dropped tanks and oil, a task which should in principle be performed by the U.S. Forces? Could you explain your policy and approach concerning fishery compensation, which is an urgent issue for fishermen?

Minister:
First, concerning the dropping of fuel tanks by the F-16 and the accident that caused this incident, the U.S. side has been explaining from the beginning that the accident was due to factors specific to this aircraft and it does not affect other F-16s and that inspection is securely conducted with respect to all aircraft in accordance with the pre-flight procedures. In any case, we believe that ensuring safety is the top priority matter, so it is important for Japan and the United States to work together and do their utmost to deal with this matter. Concerning the recovery of the fuel tanks dropped onto Lake Ogawara, although the U.S. Forces should normally perform this task, they do not have the capability to do so at the moment. In addition, the SDF received a request for disaster relief dispatch from the governor of Aomori Prefecture at this time. Therefore, in light of the importance of this incident, we dispatched expert personnel from the MSDF unit at Ominato, and they are now recovering oil and dropped parts.

Question:
Yesterday, a flight by U.S. military aircraft over Futenma Second Elementary School was confirmed again. What information do you have on that?

Minister:
Yesterday, a flight by an MH-60 of the U.S. Forces over the school at around 3:35 p.m. on February 23 was confirmed based on visual observation by monitoring personnel assigned to Futenma Second Elementary School and video camera images-the monitoring activity is being conducted by the Okinawa Defense Bureau. The MOD inquired with the U.S. side to check the facts, and the U.S. side immediately admitted to the flight and expressed regrets. In order to prevent the recurrence, the U.S. side immediately started an investigation to examine the facts and circumstances of the latest flight over the school. Although we are aware that the latest flight over the school was made by aircraft from outside Okinawa, the MOD requested the U.S. side to take thorough measures to prevent the recurrence of flights over the school, including by aircraft from outside Okinawa. We are taking this flight over Futenma Second Elementary School seriously. As we had assigned monitoring personnel and installed surveillance cameras, we were able to respond immediately to this incident. In any case, we will continue to monitor U.S. military aircraft.

Question:
This is the second such incident since the accident. May I take it that the U.S. Forces offered apologies?

Minister:
The U.S. Forces expressed regrets, which is the same as offering apologies. We assume that recurrence prevention measures have been thoroughly implemented with respect to helicopters belonging to MCAS Futenma, but this was a Navy helicopter from outside Okinawa. We reminded the U.S. side that it is important to thoroughly inform recurrence prevention measures to aircraft from outside Okinawa as well.

Question:
The U.S. government has announced new sanctions against North Korea. Could you comment on that on behalf of the Japanese government? Also, do you support the new sanctions?

Minister:
At this time, the United States has imposed new sanctions of its own. We strongly support the imposition of the new sanctions as an effort to increase the U.S. pressure on North Korea. While taking account of the U.S. measures, Japan will seriously consider what actions to take in the future from the perspective of how we can most effectively increase the pressure on North Korea in order to comprehensively resolve various pending issues. The U.S. announcement of the new sanctions against North Korea was made partly based on information obtained by the MSDF with respect to ship-to-ship transfer of cargoes, so I believe that Japan and the United States are maintaining close cooperation.

Question:
President Trump also said that if the new sanctions do not work, it will be inevitable to move on to "Phase Two," a remark which seems to suggest the possibility of taking military action. Could you comment on that remark?

Minister:
In principle, our stance is that we should first apply pressure on North Korea in order to make it change its basic policy concerning nuclear weapons and missiles. However, President Trump has stated that all options are always on the table. I cannot guess the intention of the remark made by President Trump at this time, but at least, we should first make diplomatic efforts. We are taking it seriously that beyond that, all options are on the table, and I hope that North Korea will also take this message seriously.

Question:
Concerning the F-35, at the beginning of this month, China also announced combat deployment of the J-20, which is its most advanced stealth fighter. Could you explain once again the F-35A's superiority over the Chinese aircraft and the significance of its deployment?

Minister:
I am aware that on February 9, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense delivered the J-20 fighter aircraft, which China calls a next-generation stealth fighter, to an air force operational unit. I would like to refrain from commenting on this aircraft's specific capabilities, but in any case, the F-35A being introduced by Japan is the most advanced fighter at the moment. It possesses a high level of stealth, high-level situational awareness capability based on the integration of various sensors, and network combat capability using the datalink capability. I believe that the introduction of the F-35A will be extremely effective from the viewpoints of securing and maintaining the air supremacy that is essential in order to ensure Japan's air defense. As I have been saying, Japan's introduction of the F-35A is very significant for the country's defense at a time when the neighboring countries are introducing various new aircraft.

Question:
The launch of the government's seventh intelligence-gathering satellite is scheduled for the day after tomorrow. Please explain how it will be used in the defense field.

Minister:
I understand that IGS Optical 6, an intelligence-gathering satellite, is scheduled to be launched on February 26 from the space center in Tanegashima, Kagoshima Prefecture. Gathering and sorting out necessary information routinely is very important not only for the defense of Japan but also for efforts to improve the international security environment. To that end, it is an urgent task to enhance various information functions. The MOD considers intelligence-gathering satellites to be very important as an instrument of Japan's own to accumulate image information that contributes to national security. Amid the severe security environment surrounding Japan, it is very significant to use this intelligence-gathering satellite when gathering and analyzing information in close cooperation with relevant organizations, including the Cabinet Satellite Intelligence Center.

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