Japan wants to develop ‘supersonic’ guided missile that can dodge threats, strike land targets

If the weapons are designed to destroy targets on land, it would be the first time that Japan would have possessed such a capability

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 November, 2017, 2:24pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 November, 2017, 10:42pm

Japan wants to develop its own “supersonic” guided missiles that can strike targets on land and at sea.

The Defence Ministry initially requested Y7.7 billion (US$685 million) in its budget for fiscal 2018 to develop a guided missile that would be designed to eliminate enemy ships that threatened Japanese sovereignty over “remote islands”.

Tokyo refuses to identify the foreign power that is sees as a threat to Japanese territory, but it is widely assumed to refer to the Diaoyu archipelago, which Japan presently controls and refers to as the Senkaku Islands. Beijing insists that the uninhabited islands are its territory.

The ministry now appears to want to give the new missiles added capabilities. If the weapons are designed to also be able to destroy targets on land, it would be the first time that Japan would have possessed such a capability.

The new weapons are being designed to be launched from a variety of platforms, including ground-based trailers, destroyers, fighter aircraft and long-range maritime patrol aircraft, which Tokyo apparently hopes will also serve as a deterrent to North Korea.

Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe last week pledged to bolster his country’s defences, calling the threat from North Korea the gravest security concern Japan has faced since the second world war.

Outlining his priorities in a policy speech to parliament, Abe described North Korea’s sixth nuclear.

“We will strengthen Japanese defence power, including missile defence capabilities, in order to protect the people’s lives and peace,” he said.

During his recent visit in Tokyo, US President Donald Trump urged Abe to buy many more American weapons that allow Japan to shoot down North Korean missiles.

“Japan has for many years said that it would develop and deploy a strike capability if and when it felt threatened and that it has the right to have such weapons under its policy of the minimum necessary defence,” said Garren Mulloy, an associate professor of international relations at Japan’s Daito Bunka University.

And Tokyo’s concerns would have been stoked by Beijing’s deployment of the Dongfeng-26, an anti-shipping or ground-attack weapon that has been dubbed a “carrier killer” and has a range of 4,000 kilometres.

Similarly, South Korea has bought an arsenal of advanced Taurus missiles from Germany, while North Korea has showed that it has sufficient medium-range missiles in stock to fire some off periodically.

Previously, Japan has bought anti-ship missiles from overseas but the changing geopolitical situation has convinced Tokyo that it needs to be able to develop its own weapons systems, Mulloy said.

“They are looking for a new generation of missile that will be larger, have a longer range, carry a bigger warhead, be able to jam electronic countermeasures and be able to ‘dog-leg’ in flight as a defensive measure.

“But most importantly, they are likely to make it supersonic.”

While previous generations of missiles developed in the West – such as Harpoon and Exocet – were all subsonic, the Soviet Union was in the closing days of the cold war able to produce an array of larger supersonic weapons able to carry larger warheads. It is those weapons that have become the standard now, Mulloy said.

“The faster they go, the harder they are to defend against; the bigger warhead they carry, the more damage they are going to do,” he said.

“I imagine that is the sort of capability that Japan wants to have.”

China would inevitably express its displeasure at Japan acquiring a weapons system that could very easily be interpreted as being offensive, Mulloy said, although the US might also be a little unnerved at Japan having access to an advanced cruise missile capability that could encourage other nations in the region to embark upon a cruise missile capability arms race.