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Japan eyes developing standoff missiles for vessels, fighter jets

The Ministry of Defense in Tokyo's Shinjuku Ward. (Mainichi/Masahiro Ogawa)

TOKYO -- Japan's Ministry of Defense is considering the introduction of a new type of long-range missile that could be fired from vessels and fighter jets, with development beginning as early as fiscal 2022.

    The new missile would be based on the first domestically made long-range missile Japan is currently developing as a modified version of the Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile.

    With China's maritime expansion and other factors in mind, Japan intends to promote a family of missiles that can be carried by ships and fighter jets, and enhance its standoff defense capabilities with the capacity to launch missiles from outside an enemy's threat range. The ministry aims to request fiscal 2022 budget allocations for related costs.

    The procurement of standoff defense capabilities was explicitly mentioned for the first time in the government's 2018 National Defense Program Guidelines. In the fiscal 2021 budget, 33.5 billion yen (approx. $306 million) was allocated for developing a long-range standoff missile based on the Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile. Development of that missile started this fiscal year, and the system is set to be introduced in fiscal 2026 or later.

    With regard to the latest model eyed for development from fiscal 2022, the government envisages trying out prototypes and conducting operational suitability tests for the long-range missiles for vessels and for fighter jets in about five years and seven years, respectively, according to a government source. Once development is finished, they will gradually be introduced for practical use.

    Missiles for ships will require specialized radars -- and the revamping of launchpads attached to the vessels. The F-2 fighter of the Air Self-Defense Force is being considered as the jet that will be equipped with the new missiles. Officials are considering the necessary renovations to the body of the fighter jet and to a system to find its target via radar and launch missiles.

    Regarding the development of long-range missiles, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato earlier explained, "It will secure the safety of Self-Defense Force personnel, and address problems from outside an enemy's threat range."

    However, such capabilities could be converted into the capacity to attack enemy military bases to deter ballistic missile attacks, and if they were not limited to launchpads on land, but were attached to vessels and fighter jets, it would mean that Japan would have moved up a level in its capability of attacking enemy bases.

    A defense ministry source told the Mainichi Shimbun, "The government has explained that the development of long-range missiles 'is not for the purpose of attacking enemy military bases,' but it has not indicated its view on whether conversions to different uses are possible."

    (Japanese original by Shu Hatakeyama, Political News Department)

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