Press Conference by Defense Minister Iwaya

Time & Date:
11:38-12:06 May 10, 2019
Place:
Press Conference Room, Ministry of Defense (MOD)

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

1. Announcements

First, regarding the projectile launches by North Korea, since that country launched some kinds of projectiles on May 9, the Ministry of Defense (MOD) has been striving to collect and analyze information. The government has comprehensively taken account of the various pieces of information so far collected, and as a result, it is presumed that the projectiles launched by North Korea on May 9 were short-range ballistic missiles. In any case, no incoming flight of a ballistic missile has been confirmed in the Japanese territories or exclusive economic zones. We have concluded that this is not an incident that could have an immediate impact on Japan’s security. However, we regard these ballistic missile launches as very regrettable, as they clearly constitute a violation of the relevant Security Council resolutions. The government will continue to appropriately deal with this incident in close cooperation with the U.S.and the Republic of Korea (ROK).

2. Questions and Answers

Question:
You said just now that those were short-range ballistic missiles, the launch of which I assume constitutes a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. Is the government considering requesting the U.N. to hold a meeting?

Minister:
We have not made a decision on that, but as I mentioned earlier, this incident is very regrettable. We will closely cooperate with the U.S. and the ROK and appropriately deal with the incident.

Question:
According to a media report, the U.S. side informed Japan that the projectiles launched on May 4 were also ballistic missiles. Is that factual?

Minister:
We are still conducting analysis regarding that. The launch site was different from the place where the launches on May 9 took place, so unless we conduct a further analysis, we cannot say for sure about that.

Question:
Do you have specific information on the launch site, and flight distance and altitude?

Minister:
We have obtained a variety of information, but as the results of our analysis are not necessarily consistent, we cannot say anything definitive about the number of missiles launched, the missile type, or the flight distance. For your information, I am aware that the ROK announced that the two missiles launched flew 240 kilometers and 420 kilometers, respectively. However, as there are various opinions, we need to conduct a further analysis.

Question:
Is it the Japanese government’s judgment that multiple short-range ballistic missiles were launched yesterday?

Minister:
Earlier, I cited the estimated flight distances of 420 kilometers and 240 kilometers that were announced by the ROK, but actually, the flight distance of one of the two missiles was 270 kilometers. The launched projectiles included ones presumed to be ballistic missiles and others considered to be similar to rocket shells, so we need to conduct a further analysis regarding the number of projectiles launched and the projectile types.

Question:
Has it been determined that the projectile that the ROK says flew 420 kilometers was a short-range ballistic missile?

Minister:
In addition to the announcement by the ROK, there are various other opinions, so it is difficult to say at this time that the information announced by the ROK is accurate. In any case, if the projectile flew such a long distance, it is presumed to have been a short-range ballistic missile.

Question:
I assume that North Korea possesses various types of missiles. Was this a Toksa? Which type of missile was it, according to your estimate?

Minister:
Our analysis is ongoing, including on that point. It is possible that this may be a new type.

Question:
What do you think is the intention of these missile launches? Do you think that North Korea has stepped up the level of its provocation?

Minister:
As to the intention, I would like to refrain from giving a definitive answer. Some people speculate that this may be an act of provocation aimed at the U.S. amid the stalemate in the U.S.-North Korea negotiations. However, at this stage, Japan cannot say anything definitive about the intention.

Question:
Could you comment on this act of provocation, which has occurred at a time when Prime Minister Abe is exploring the possibility of holding a Japan-North Korea Summit Meeting?

Minister:
I believe that the North Korea situation has started to move toward denuclearization, as evidenced by the holding of two U.S.-North Korea summit meetings and several North-South summit meetings, so that is very regrettable. In particular, this incident is regrettable. Since early on, the Prime Minister has been saying that the next step is for himself to deal with Chairman Kim Jong-un. I assume that there has been no change in his resolve to do so. In any case, Japan’s goal has been to resolve various pending matters, including the abduction, nuclear and missile issues, and to normalize the diplomatic relationship. To realize the Pyongyang Declaration, I expect that various diplomatic initiatives will be conducted.

Question:
Following the missile launch incident, do you think that a Japan-North Korea summit meeting should be held? Or should more caution be exercised?

Minister:
The judgement on that should be made after the government as a whole has further analyzed the situation.

Question:
In relation to the F-35A crash, could you provide information on the current status other than the analysis that you have so far offered?

Minister:
As I informed you the other day, JAMSTEC’s Kaimei and the Van Gogh, which was chartered through the U.S. Forces, were conducting a search activity using sonars and underwater cameras, but the search activity by these two ships has been terminated, and at present, salvage ships of a private company with which the Air Self-Defense Force (ASDF) has concluded a contract are conducting an underwater search. Two ships operated by the private salvage company have already been conducting an underwater search using sonars and underwater cameras, and today, an additional ship is scheduled to join this activity. The parts of the flight data recorder discovered and salvaged by the Van Gogh are under the custody of and under examination by the ASDF. However, until now, neither the memory in which flight data was recorded nor the aircraft itself have been discovered. We will continue to strive to discover the aircraft and the missing pilot. At the same time, the accident investigation committee is proceeding with its investigation. The F-35A is equipped with a datalink called MADL, which enables the sharing of information within a fleet of F-35As. There are data records stored by this system. In addition, we are also collecting and analyzing various other records, including ground radar records, and are holding interviews with some personnel. Through this investigation, we would like to identify the cause of the accident as soon as possible.

Question:
In relation to that, the U.S. Government Accountability Office published a new report concerning the F-35A at the end of April. The report pointed out that around 17 critical deficiencies remain unresolved and that a problem with the life support system whose cause remains unknown has occurred. Could you comment on this report? Also, could you tell me how the report may affect the plan for future deployment of the F-35, for which deficiencies have been pointed out again?

Minister:
Regarding deficiencies that could affect operational capabilities and flight safety, the report published in April by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) stated that in addition to the 13 deficiencies that had already been pointed out, four new deficiencies were confirmed, bringing the total number to 17 with respect to all of the types A, B and C of the F-35. On the deficiencies newly identified by GAO and how they are being addressed, we are checking with the U.S. government. However, generally speaking, when a deficiency is found with aircraft, the usual arrangement is to ensure flight safety and continue operation by identifying the cause and taking appropriate measures to address it. We recognize that amid the remarkable modernization of air power in other countries, the introduction of the F-35A is very important from the viewpoint of ensuring Japan’s air defense preparedness. Therefore, after fully taking into consideration that viewpoint, we will take appropriate measures.

Question:
I have two questions related to Mage Island, which is a candidate site for training for U.S. carrier-borne aircraft. On May 7, the landowner notified the MOD of the termination of the sales negotiations. How will you deal with this matter? Also, what is your understanding of the agreement reached with the landowner in January this year, which I assume will become invalid if the negotiations are terminated, and what is the basis for that understanding?

Minister:
The MOD would like to continue the negotiations with Taston Airport, which is the landowner, toward concluding a sales contract. At this time, I would like to refrain from commenting on the prospects for that, but there has been no change in our wish to secure a facility for FCLP (Field Carrier Landing Practice) as soon as possible. As we believe that this is a very important security issue, we will make efforts to conclude a sales contract with Taston Airport.
We exchanged a document with Taston Airport on January 9 based on the understanding that it was useful for both sides to confirm the points that had until then been agreed upon through several rounds of negotiations. I expect that the contents of this document will serve as the premise of future negotiations.

Question:
Have you conveyed to the landowner your wish to continue the negotiations?

Minister:
In fact, we have yet to do that. However, as we believe it is essential to continue the negotiations and reach an agreement with Taston Airport, which owns most parts of Mage Island, we will make efforts to that end.

Question:
Could you tell me whether the radar lock-on incident was discussed at the Japan-U.S.-ROK and Japan-ROK working-level consultation meetings and whether there was any progress in that respect?

Minister:
On May 9, the Japan-U.S.-ROK working-level consultation meeting between the three countries’ defense authorities, or DTT (Defense Trilateral Talks), was held at the ROK Ministry of National Defense. At the latest DTT, we discussed regional security challenges, including the North Korea situation, and how to promote defense cooperation. With respect to the North Korea situation, we deepened information sharing between the three countries concerning the projectile launches on May 4 and 9 and strongly called for North Korea to immediately and fully honor its international obligations under all relevant U.N. Security Council resolutions, including the complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantlement of all weapons of mass destruction and all ranges of ballistic missiles. In addition, Japan, the U.S. and the ROK agreed that they will continue to play the central role in multilateral efforts to deter, suspend and eliminate illegal maritime activities by North Korea, such as illegal ship-to-ship transfer. Furthermore, we reaffirmed our intention to actively support diplomatic initiatives to resolve the challenge of denuclearizing the Korean Peninsula through peaceful means and the need for North Korea to take concrete actions toward denuclearization. We believe that cooperation between Japan, the U.S., and the ROK is very important for dealing with this matter. The three countries will strengthen cooperation with each other.

Question:
Could you tell me about the radar lock-on incident?

Minister:
I would like to refrain from commenting on the radar lock-on incident out of consideration for our relationship with the partner country. However, in any case, we held the consultation meeting in order to promote Japan-ROK defense cooperation.

Question:
The Shangri-La Dialogue will open at the end of this month, and I suppose that you are considering holding a Japan-ROK defense ministers’ meeting on this occasion. Could you tell me about the status of consideration? Also, do you think that it is necessary to hold a defense ministers’ meeting at a time when we see no clue as to the direction in which the lock-on incident may evolve?

Minister:
As you know, the Shangri-La Dialogue, an Asian Security Summit, will be held in Singapore from May 31 to June 2. As to my possible attendance at the conference, scheduling adjustments are being made now, so nothing has been fixed for individual meetings. However, as we believe that cooperation between Japan, the U.S. and the ROK, and between Japan and the ROK, is very important in light of the North Korea situation, I would like to attend this conference and hold a Japan-U.S.-ROK meeting and a Japan-ROK meeting, so we will continue efforts to develop an environment to do that. If we are to hold a Japan-ROK meeting, it would be meaningless unless we did so in a way that avoids generating various kinds of friction between Japan and the ROK. Therefore, with that in mind, we will deal with this matter.

Question:
President Trump nominated Acting Secretary of Defense Shanahan to serve as Secretary of Defense on a permanent basis. Could you comment on that?

Minister:
I have already met with Mr. Shanahan twice. The first time we met was at the Defense Ministerial’ Meeting, and the other day, we met at the 2+2 meeting. We watched the White House’s latest announcement with strong interest. However, as you know, the post of the Secretary of Defense requires a Senate confirmation. At this time, I would like to refrain from making a comment with prejudice. However, as we are building a personal relationship of trust with each other, I would like to wait for an official confirmation.

Question:
Earlier, you mentioned the need to avoid generating friction between Japan and the ROK, but the ROK has unilaterally issued a guideline prescribing that a warning should be issued against an approach to within three nautical miles. Will consultations be held on that matter as well?

Minister:
Although I will refrain from commenting on the specifics, we would like to create an environment that makes it unnecessary to engage in a verbal exchange like the one that has already occurred, so on the whole, we will make efforts to resolve matters like that.

Question:
You say you would like to create an environment that avoids generating friction, but do you think that you are making progress in creating such an environment and that you will be able to develop such an environment by the time of the Shangri La-Dialogue?

Minister:
We are making efforts to that end. As I mentioned earlier, we also held the Japan- U.S.-ROK consultation meeting. Of course, Japan and the ROK are exchanging opinions with each other through opportunities like that, so we would like to develop an environment that enables positive, constructive dialogue, although it may be difficult to do that overnight.

Question:
Regarding the SDF’s Osprey, please tell me about the status of your study on provisional deployment in Kisarazu.

Minister:
Regarding the Osprey, which is being introduced by the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF), in August last year, Saga’s governor announced the prefecture’s willingness to accept the deployment of the aircraft at Saga Airport. I understand that it is necessary to continue consultations with the Ariake fishermen’s association. As the development of relevant facilities following the consultations will take some time, we are implementing education and training of GSDF pilots and maintenance personnel in the U.S. as a temporary measure. On the other hand, on the issue of what to do after the implementation of education and training, at present, it is not factual that we have decided on provisional deployment at any domestic location, including Camp Kisarazu. In any case, the MOD will continue to carefully study this matter.

Question:
By when do you intend to decide the candidate site for provisional deployment?

Minister:
At this time, I cannot say by when the decision will be made, but as we are training pilots and maintenance personnel in the U.S., we will accelerate the study.

Question:
The training implemented in the U.S. is relating to the first five Ospreys, and I expect that it will continue until around May next year. Is it possible that you will implement training in the U.S. for Ospreys that will be introduced in the current fiscal year?

Minister:
We are also studying that possibility.