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Defense Ministry aims for FY2026 introduction of 'high-speed gliding missiles'


TOKYO -- The Ministry of Defense has decided on a plan to introduce a new type of "high-speed gliding missiles" with small wings attached to the payload to guide it to its target by fiscal 2026 for use by the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF), an individual close to the matter has disclosed.

The development of the missiles will be divided into two stages, and the projectiles designated for use in protecting Japan's remote islands are expected to have a range of around 300 to 500 kilometers. However, this would mean an increase in the missile range of the Self-Defense Forces (SDF), and there is a possibility that the addition's compliance with Japan's policy of being exclusively defense-oriented will be questioned.

The high-speed gliding missiles are guided missiles that are launched from ground level by rocket, after which the payload will detach and glide through the upper atmosphere at supersonic speed, using GPS and other technology to strike their target. Due to their high speed, various complicated flight path trajectories are possible, making them hard to intercept. The United States, Russia, China and other countries are also currently developing high-speed missiles with gliding capabilities.

The Defense Ministry allotted 4.6 billion yen to the technological development of the gliding missiles in the budget for the 2018 fiscal year, and has requested an additional 13.8 billion yen as part of the budget for next fiscal year in order to speed up the introduction of the new missiles. The development itself is split into two stages. First, tests of a missile with a cylindrical nose and several small wings with a low gliding capacity are set to be held until the end of fiscal 2025, with the missiles equipped as early as the following fiscal year. Next, a flat missile head shaped like a talon with high gliding capacity will enter development, reportedly aiming for introduction after fiscal 2028 if tests are successful.

Possible uses of the missiles are envisaged to be under a scenario in which Japan's islands to the southwest are infiltrated. Before engaging in a land battle to take back one of the remote islands, there is a necessity to be able to strike enemy targets from a long distance. However, even the GSDF's latest missile model has a range of less than 200 kilometers. There is a distance of some 420 kilometers between the main island of Okinawa in southern Japan and the Senkaku Islands in the prefecture. From the Okinawan island of Miyakojima, it is still around 290 kilometers to the islands, and without enough assistance from fighter jets or escort vessels, the missiles would not be able to reach their target. Thus, the development of long distance land-to-land missiles became an issue.

The SDF is already in the process of increasing the range of its equipment, such as acquiring long-distance cruise missiles that can be carried by fighter jets. Of the gliding missiles, a top official at the Defense Ministry said, "If the capabilities of the rocket part of the missile are improved, then it is possible to increase the range." However, this also means that Japan would be able to strike foreign military targets, which will no doubt raise worries.

(Japanese original by Hiroshi Maetani, City News Department)

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