USS Florida launching a Tomahawk cruise missile. Photo: EPA

Japan to look into deployment of cruise missiles to combat North Korea threat

Japan has started contemplating future deployment of cruise missiles in response to North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile launches and nuclear tests, a government official said on Friday.

The government is eager to set aside spending to study the potential acquisition of a capability to strike enemy launch sites, possibly in a draft state budget for fiscal 2018, the official told Kyodo News, speaking on condition of anonymity.

However, there are concerns within the government and ruling parties that adoption of strike capability would run contrary to Japan’s exclusively defence-oriented posture and trigger a backlash from opposition parties.

According to the official, the envisaged type of missile is the Tomahawk cruise missile, which was used in a US strike on an airfield in Syria in April.

The Tomahawk is a long-range, all-weather, subsonic cruise missile. It would have enough range to hit any part of North Korea from the Sea of Japan, or East Sea, flying at extremely low altitudes and thus making it less noticeable to radar.

The government is considering deploying Tomahawks on the Maritime Self-Defence Force’s Aegis-equipped vessels, the official said. If they are actually introduced, the ships will also need renovation to carry them.

USS Porter launching a missile strike while in the Mediterranean Sea. Photo: EPA

The United States, which is Japan’s key security ally but was cautious about Tokyo possessing cruise missiles, has moderated its stance in parallel with the heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula, according to a Defence Ministry source.

To bring the adoption of strike capability to fruition, the government would need to advance the date of revising the 10-year defence programme guidelines and review the five-year defence build-up plan, both approved by the cabinet in late 2013.

A panel on security issues in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is expected to put forward recommendations later this month on how to improve Japan’s defence capabilities with an eye on assisting the government to explore a strike capability option.

In a parliamentary committee meeting on January 26, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said it would fall under the category of self-defense allowed under the war-renouncing constitution should Japan move to strike enemy launch sites when no alternative is in sight, thereby expressing his belief that the possession of strike capability would pose no problem.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Japan eyes cruise missiles