The two new fighters are designed to penetrate double-digit air defenses—including SA-10s, SA-20s and SA-22s—to bomb ballistic missile launch sites. That's considered the surest way to prevent missiles from striking Japan. But there's no perfect solution so far.
"[The F-22] continues to be advertised as an air-to-air only fighter, and that's just wrong," Wright contends. "With its small radar cross section, it can go into a double-digit SAM environment today and deploy precision weapons.
"There are significant challenges," he admits. "The answer is to constantly balance capabilities and put money into more robust cruise and ballistic missile defense, command and control from the U.S., and intelligence from Japan."
Japan shares the concern at the highest levels, including Adm. Takashi Saito, the Self-Defense Forces' first chief of the joint staff office, says a Tokyo-based Japanese military officer. Saito has a much more operational role than the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. As a result, he has pushed for a bilateral operations and coordination center to support him in his new position and the newly created defense ministry. As part of the focus on cruise and ballistic missile defense, the Self-Defense Forces started building a counteroffensive fighter capability during their June exercise in Guam, where they dropped live bombs for the first time since World War II.
"We need to ensure that if one of those missiles slip through, the bad guys know we have counteroffensive air capabilities to attack launch and command-and-control facilities," says another U.S. Air Force official.
Meanwhile, North Korea is the locus of credit-card fraud, and Russia appears to have fired the first shot in cyberwar with attacks on Estonia's government and banking system. China also is gaining notoriety for its excursions into the cyber-realm.
"We don't know what we don't know about the cyber-realm and China's capabilities," says Wright. "Our command and control is very dependent on the cyber-fight and the external and internal proliferation of Internet communications. Chinese probing is increasing. It's too lucrative a target to pass up."
Other worrisome developments include Chinese aircraft operating near Japanese airspace as well as an increase in Chinese ship traffic off military bases; submarines, for example, have been spotted near shore.
"The fact that there has been an element of surprise [to U.S. and Japanese officials] in this activity shows there's an intelligence gap," he says. "We still lack the ability to deduce their intentions."
Another emerging threat involves any nation that has missiles that can put a nuclear weapon into space and detonate it there. The resulting electronic spikes and waves of damaging particles such as X-rays could destroy the communications and sensing capabilities of low-Earth-orbit satellites and even disrupt key financial infrastructure.
"Those who would use nuclear-generated EMP [electromagnetic pulse] are the countries with the least to lose," says Wright.
"We know we're vulnerable. As part of our deterrent strategy and contingency planning, we need to ensure our network-centric framework lets us respond with adequate military force even if our command-and-control loop is damaged. Other countries aren't so reliant on [network operations]," he notes.
In the last two years, Israeli military officials have drawn similar conclusions from missile and nuclear weapons development in Iran. The Israeli air force, for example, has decided to keep more manned aircraft and operate them longer, so that in case of massive electronic or cyber-attack, they can still gather intelligence and generate bombing missions.