If there is a big shift occurring in Japanese force posture, however, it's south, with the ASDF doubling its number of F-15s to about 40 to Naha to form a new 9th Air Wing to fend of increasingly aggressive PLAAF probing of the Nansei Shoto, which last year provoked 441 ASDF scrambles, double that of 2011, according to JMoD.
"Much of it appears to be to move Japan's air power southwards to Kyushu and Okinawa. Fending off China's advances in the East China Sea is clearly the intention," said Christopher Hughes, a Japan military expert and professor of international politics and Japanese studies at the University of Warwick.
"Shifting ASDF assets to the southwest is a good thing, not least it potentially takes some of the pressure off ASDF aircraft that are so busy responding to Chinese incursions that they have reduced training time along with the sheer wear and tear that comes of constantly responding to PRC aircraft," said Grant Newsham, a senior research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies.
"Hopefully, ASDF will also deploy forward fighter elements on other islands, such as Shimoji, that are closer to the Senkakus. This is useful operationally, but also politically significant as the JSDF establishes a presence farther down the Nansei Shoto. This is long overdue and in line with deployment of GSDF troops to Yonaguni," Newsham said.
For now, the new air wing is significant in that Japan is facing up to the threat, and acknowledging that the defense of the Nansei Shoto is the first – and last – line of defense, said Steven Ganyard, president, Avascent International.
However, for now, even the F-15 program, despite being on track … "is woefully inadequate," Ganyard said.
Richard Aboulafia, vice president, analysis, at the Teal Group, concurred.
"They … have pressing fighter fleet recapitalization needs, and it's far from clear that the topline defense budget is growing enough to pay for all of these priorities. In other words, it's possible that their foreign policy words aren't backed up by defense dollars and equipment," he said.
One key consideration about executing a long-term effect deterrent is how much Japan thinks it can afford in order to support its expensive domestic industrial base in making future purchasing decisions. Last week's unveiling of a scale model Shinshin stealth fighter demonstrator, not prototype, developed at a locally reported estimated cost of around US $335 million, and recent decisions to build the P-1 ASW/MPA aircraft (instead of buying Boeing P-8s) and the C-2 cargo plane (instead of C-17s or C-130Js), suggest that Japan is willing to pay a premium for domestically produced hardware and wants at least more of a stake in F-15 and F-2 replacements necessary in the next decade, analysts said.
"I am never sure what to make of the stealth fighter demonstration project. I guess it is about getting a foothold in these technologies to increase bargaining power for Japan to participate in any future fighter consortium so it will not be left out as it was on the development of the F-35," Hughes said.
"Shinshin is a technology demonstrator, a science project. Like every other country in the world [e.g. Korea, Turkey, etc.] with post-5th gen ambitions, Japan will not have the money or the capabilities to go it alone," Ganyard said.
"As a result, that problem of paying for the country's more assertive defense posture will likely get worse. Thus, we're in for a long debate between more F-35s and development of an indigenous aircraft," he said.
Longer term an even more fundamental shift both in procurement practices and strategy would help the ASDF better meet its deterrence goals over the next decade, Newsham said.
"The Japanese approach is ultimately a haphazard one, no matter how well-intentioned. It would be even more useful if the ASDF in the Nansei Shoto region were used as part of a joint command structure…. [in which] forces are employed in a coordinated fashion under a unified chain of command. This alone would be as, or more, valuable than any given pieces of hardware ASDF might procure," Newsham said.