Saturday, February 09, 2013

The Radar: Chinese Counterattack and Japanese Counter-Counterattack

Richard Katz, who is one of the few reasons why I hesitate to swear off the NBR Japan forum completely and for good, has had the foresight to ask around and writes:

“I asked the same question and was told by as US security expert that the [Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF)] (and others) CAN distinguish between fire-control radar and surveillance radar. What I don't know is whether the MSDF can, or does, keep any sort of electronic record that would allow them to prove their case.”

I assume that they do since it’s hard to believe that the MSDF can make any kind of definitive confirmation after the fact unless they had detailed electronic records. Besides, how would you go about making improvements to the radar system without that kind of information? But will the MSDF be willing to release them in light of the potential military intelligence regarding its technical capabilities that would be revealed?

Rick wonders too, and I was going to see what I could dig up if the media doesn’t go after the authorities over this long weekend. Well they are. Sort of. Yomiuri reports that Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera went on Yomiuri TV this morning (Feb. 9), where he rejected the Chinese defense ministry’s explanation, stating that “a surveillance radar spins but a fire-control radar tracks a vessel all along. [The PLA Navy frigate] used it in that manner (in the images that the Maritime Self-Defense Force captured)” and that “the government is currently considering the extent to which (the evidence [that the JMSD destroyer was beamed] can be made public.”

Video and pictures should be pretty useful to experts in determining what happened. Although it appears to me that the Chinese side is suggesting, albeit vaguely, that the frigate trained a surveillance radar on the destroyer, the video should provide powerful evidence on the truthfulness of such a Chinese counterclaim even without the electronic records.

The only case where the electronic records would be necessary is where the two radars are visually and electronically undistinguishable in real time. Otherwise, even if it were a surveillance radar, locking it on a vessel would be the maritime equivalent of pointing a middle finger in the dark like a gun barrel. It’s unlikely, if the Japanese claim that it took days to make sure are true, but it would serve as a face-saving, if flimsy, excuse for the Chinese side.

Meanwhile, Sankei reports that the Chinese movements (Sankei uses the word “provocation”) around the Senkaku Islands and more broadly the Ease China Sea have been subdued since the Japanese government revealed the January 30 radar incident on February 5. This may be temporary even if true, but still generates potential for an opening for easing of tensions if the Abe administration is willing to proceed sub rosa from here. Save Chinese face, and perhaps they’ll ease up—surely not terminate—territorial intrusions. But would Prime Minister Abe be inclined to go there? If the Chinese side is willing to settle for a way back to the pre-purchase status quo but under more stable ownership, yes, but I’m not taking any bets here.

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