Japanese rocket fuels fears of arms race in East Asia

JAPAN will launch a satellite-carrying rocket tomorrow that could also be used as an inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM) to deliver a nuclear weapon anywhere in the world. The planned launch of the H-II rocket from the southern island of Tanega-shima comes amid increasing concern that a hi-tech arms race in East Asia has begun.

The most destabilising development so far in the region has been the apparent nuclear weapons programme in Communist North Korea, and its building of long- range missiles which could serve as delivery vehicles. But at the same time China, Taiwan, South Korea and Japan are all rushing to acquire new weapons systems and increase their defence budgets - even as Western countries cut theirs.

The H-II rocket has been under development for a decade, and is the first rocket entirely designed and built in Japan. There have been several setbacks to the rocket programme, including an explosion of one of the engines during a test in August 1991 that killed one engineer. Built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, it is already two years behind its planned launching date.

On its maiden voyage, the H-II will carry a small saucer-shaped reentry vehicle called the Orex, which will test the resistance of materials to the high temperatures involved in re-entering the Earth's atmosphere. But while Japan officially says the H-II would only be used for peaceful purposes, military analysts have pointed out that the rocket could function equally as an ICBM, traversing the globe before re-entering the atmosphere. And with its stockpile of plutonium and its technological expertise, few doubt that the country could build a nuclear warhead at short notice.

Japan has an extensive civilian nuclear programme, and is scrupulous in allowing full inspections by the International Atomic Energy Agency. However, the conversion of civilian to military use of its plutonium would be relatively simple. And the fact that the H-II, unlike previous Japanese rockets, has not been built using US technology, means that Japan does not have to open the rocket programme to US inspections over dual civilian-military use. The H-II has already cost more than pounds 1.5bn to develop, and although it is touted as a commercial satellite launcher, its costs per launch will be about double that of the European Ariane rockets.

North Korea, whose suspected nuclear weapons programme has already sent shock waves through the region, last April successfully test- launched the Rodong 1 missile over the Japan Sea. The Rodong 1, a modified Scud missile, has a range of 1,000km (600 miles), which would put South Korea and large parts of Japan - including its second city, Osaka - within range.

In response, the US decided last week to send Patriot anti-missile missiles to South Korea. Seoul is also receiving other advanced weapons systems, including new Apache attack helicopters, to counter recent assessments that South Korea's military capability has not been updated sufficiently in recent years. Last year the Pentagon also suggested that it could help Japan to set up a Theatre Missile Defence system using scaled-down Star Wars technology to defend against the North Korean threat.

Behind the immediate military threat from 22 million North Koreans lies the long-term threat from 1.2 billion Chinese - the only self- avowed nuclear power in Asia. China's weapons systems are still relatively outmoded, but with a doubling of its defence budget since 1988 and a shift towards the air force and navy in a clear attempt to be able to project power beyond its land borders, Chinese military potential is already causing alarm in the region.

View from Tokyo, page 24

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
Arts and Entertainment
Buttoned up: Ryan Reynolds with Helen Mirren in ‘Woman in Gold’
filmFor every box-office smash in his Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. Now he says it's time for a reboot
News
people
News
Actress Julianne Moore wins the Best Actress in a Leading Role Award for 'Still Alice' during the 87th Annual Academy Awards in Hollywood, California
people
Sport
Ross Barkley
footballPaul Scholes says it's time for the Everton playmaker to step up and seize the England No 10 shirt
News
'We will fix it': mice in the 1970s children’s programme Bagpuss
science
Life and Style
2 Karl Lagerfeld and Choupette
fashion
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Executive

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Retail Buyer / Ecommerce Buyer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Working closely with the market...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - CAD Software Solutions Sales

£20000 - £50000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A reputable company, famed for ...

Ashdown Group: Client Accountant Team Manager - Reading

Negotiable: Ashdown Group: The Ashdown Group has been engaged by a highly resp...

Day In a Page

War with Isis: Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria's capital

War with Isis

Iraq declares victory in the battle for Tikrit - but militants make make ominous advances in neighbouring Syria
Scientists develop mechanical spring-loaded leg brace to improve walking

A spring in your step?

Scientists develop mechanical leg brace to help take a load off
Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock: How London shaped the director's art and obsessions

Peter Ackroyd on Alfred Hitchcock

Ackroyd has devoted his literary career to chronicling the capital and its characters. He tells John Walsh why he chose the master of suspense as his latest subject
Ryan Reynolds interview: The actor is branching out with Nazi art-theft drama Woman in Gold

Ryan Reynolds branches out in Woman in Gold

For every box-office smash in Ryan Reynolds' Hollywood career, there's always been a misconceived let-down. It's time for a rethink and a reboot, the actor tells James Mottram
Why Robin Williams safeguarded himself against a morbid trend in advertising

Stars safeguard against morbid advertising

As film-makers and advertisers make increasing posthumous use of celebrities' images, some stars are finding new ways of ensuring that they rest in peace
The UK horticulture industry is facing a skills crisis - but Great Dixter aims to change all that

UK horticulture industry facing skills crisis

Great Dixter manor house in East Sussex is encouraging people to work in the industry by offering three scholarships a year to students, as well as generous placements
Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head

Hack Circus: Technology, art and learning

Hack Circus aims to turn the rule-abiding approach of TED talks on its head. Rhodri Marsden meets mistress of ceremonies Leila Johnston
Sevenoaks is split over much-delayed decision on controversial grammar school annexe

Sevenoaks split over grammar school annexe

If Weald of Kent Grammar School is given the go-ahead for an annexe in leafy Sevenoaks, it will be the first selective state school to open in 50 years
10 best compact cameras

A look through the lens: 10 best compact cameras

If your smartphone won’t quite cut it, it’s time to invest in a new portable gadget
Paul Scholes column: Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now

Paul Scholes column

Ross Barkley played well against Italy but he must build on that. His time to step up and seize that England No 10 shirt is now
Why Michael Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Why Carrick is still proving an enigma for England

Manchester United's talented midfielder has played international football for almost 14 years yet, frustratingly, has won only 32 caps, says Sam Wallace
Tracey Neville: The netball coach who is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

Tracey Neville is just as busy as her brothers, Gary and Phil

The former player on how she is finding time to coach both Manchester Thunder in the Superleague and England in this year's World Cup
General Election 2015: The masterminds behind the scenes

The masterminds behind the election

How do you get your party leader to embrace a message and then stick to it? By employing these people
Machine Gun America: The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons

Machine Gun America

The amusement park where teenagers go to shoot a huge range of automatic weapons
The ethics of pet food: Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?

The ethics of pet food

Why are we are so selective in how we show animals our love?