Japan’s likely adoption of the advanced Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) system will greatly improve its combat capabilities and ability to operate with US forces.
The possibility of acquiring NIFC-CA seemed certain following a statement to that effect by Defense Minister Gen Nakatani during a debate in Japan’s Diet. Nakatani revealed during a question-and-answer session June 29 in the House of Representatives that Japan was now “studying” adopting NIFC-CA to counter China’s CJ-10 Long Sword cruise missile, which has become a major concern to Japan, particularly when launched from the Xian H-6 version of the Soviet Tupolev Tu-16 bomber.
“For the sake of protecting people’s lives and property … we must consider the adoption of the latest US technology, such as NIFC-CA,” Nakatani said.
The revelation followed a comment made June 26 by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a Diet question-and-answer session that Japan must network its small but growing fleet of Aegis missile cruisers with each other and the US Navy.
NIFC-CA is based on the US Navy’s cooperative engagement capability (CEC) network, which utilizes datalinks to transmit targeting information between the E-2D Hawkeye airborne warning and control aircraft and Navy Aegis-equipped ships carrying SM-6 missiles. This enables Aegis ships to conduct air defense at the same time as strategic ballistic missile defense (BMD) missions.
Such a capability would be used by the two new Atago-class Aegis cruisers on order, which will automatically come with the latest baseline 9 specification enabling NIFC-CA. The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) currently has six Aegis ships.
“NIFC-CA and CEC are absolutely necessary ‘killer apps’ for the Japanese Self-Defense Force to enhance its ability to operate in a high-threat scenario involving China, and to do so in more effective concert with US forces, especially the US Navy,” said Matthew Caris, an associate at Avascent Group, a Washington-based defense and aerospace consulting group.
Caris said baseline 9 was especially important because Japan does not have enough vessels to assign individual ships to a BMD mission. In wartime, the JMSDF may be stretched if key fleet units are held back for the BMD mission to protect the home islands.
The value of NIFC-CA becomes more evident when placed in the context of the US Asian pivot, specifically the forward deployment of the recently upgraded NIFC-CA capable USS Chancellorsville (CG-62), billed by Capt. Curt Renshaw, in a June 18 news conference at the Yokosuka Naval Base, as the most powerful cruiser in the world.
Renshaw said the Chancellorsville in general and NIFC-CA in particular represented a “tremendous improvement” that was capable of dealing with “modern challenges,” a veiled reference to China’s cruise missile threat. The USS Ronald Reagan, the US Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, will arrive at Yokosuka later this year