Japan is making missiles to sink China’s hypersonic threat

Omar Adan

Global Courant

Japan has unveiled plans for a new long-range anti-ship cruise missile with interchangeable warheads, the latest development in its bid to deter the Chinese naval missile threat.

This month, The Warzone reported that Japan’s Ministry of Defense (MOD) has awarded a $257 million contract to Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) to develop an “island defense anti-ship missile” of low-profile turbofan-powered design with a purported range of 2,000 kilometers.

The report states that the missile will have a “modular warhead” with land attack, electronic warfare (EW) and reconnaissance configurations.

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It also says the missile will use multiple guidance systems during different phases of flight, such as Global Positioning System (GPS) and Inertial Navigation System (INS) during cruise phase and infrared (IR) or radio frequency (RF) seekers during terminal. phase, increasing probability of death and resistance to countermeasures.

The Warzone notes that the missile will be six to ten meters in length and will fly at a high subsonic speed of Mach 0.8.

Global Courant noted in January 2023 that launching multiple types of missiles in one strike can greatly improve accuracy, with a reconnaissance missile with a powerful camera to spot the enemy’s position, followed by an EW missile to detect enemy radar and other sensors, after which a missile with a high explosive warhead makes the deadly attack.

The growing missile threat from China and North Korea, in addition to the limitations of current missile defenses, may have prompted Japan to invest in long-range preemptive strikes, with the missile threat posed by China now evolving with a maritime dimension.

Global Courant noted in May 2022 that China alone has 1,900 ground-launched intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBM) and 300 intermediate-range cruise missiles aimed at Japan. North Korea also has hundreds of ballistic missiles that can hit Japan.

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Those threats prompted Tokyo to procure long-range missiles for preemptive strikes. Attacking the base from a guided missile may fall under Japan’s self-defense if there are no other defensive options.

China’s YJ-21 hypersonic missile in a test launch. Image: Video Screengrab

China now also has warships with hypersonic missiles. Global Courant reported in October 2022 that China can now deploy hypersonic weapons aboard its aircraft carriers and deploy the YJ-21 hypersonic missile aboard its Type 055 cruisers.

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Japan’s new anti-ship cruise missile marks an important step towards taking its pre-emptive defensive stance to sea, with drones potentially acting as target designators.

Global Courant reported in March 2023 that Japan is considering using drones to intercept foreign aircraft entering its airspace. This year, Japan will begin testing drones to chase warships to measure performance and functionality. If successful, Japan will next test drones against aircraft.

Those drones could provide the necessary intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance (ISR) and target acquisition for Japan’s forthcoming new anti-ship missile.

Information sharing between Japan and its allies could also significantly improve the lethality of its forthcoming anti-ship missile. Since Japan has limited capabilities for long-range ISR and target acquisition, such an arrangement can compensate for that capacity gap.

Global Courant reported this month on US plans to link the Taiwanese and Japanese MQ-9 Sea Guardian drones to a common system to enable real-time information exchange.

That arrangement would allow the US and its partners to observe the same image captured by the drones, giving all three access to a common operational image. The US and its partners are taking a hands-on approach to the program to ensure that integration comes about quickly.

Apart from the anti-ship missile for island defense, Japan is developing other types of missiles to strengthen its deterrent stance against China and North Korea.

Global Courant reported in May 2023 that Japan’s Ministry of Defense had signed four contracts with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to design and manufacture various standoff missiles.

These contracts include US$1.29 billion to upgrade production of Type 12 SSM missiles, US$200 million to develop Type 12 SSM surface-to-air/ship-launched variants, US$891.8 million to Hyper Velocity Gliding Projectile (HVGP) mass production and US$436 million for the development of a submarine-launched guided missile.

The upgraded Type 12 SSM will go into production this year and is expected to enter service in 2026, with successive upgrades increasing range to 200, 900 and eventually 1,500 kilometers.

Japan also has two hypersonic weapon designs, with the HVGP Block 1 due to enter production this year, with an estimated range of 500 to 900 kilometers, fired from a two-round truck-based launcher.

The other designs, block 2A and 2B, have a range of 2,000 to 3,000 kilometers and are expected to be developed from 2023 to 2027 and from 2023 to 2030, respectively.

Japan also plans to develop an extended-range submarine-launched Type 12 SSM between 2023 and 2027, in addition to a new class of submarines equipped with vertical launch systems (VLS) to fire larger missiles.

The limitations of Japan’s existing missile defense systems may have prompted it to invest in naval preemptive strike capabilities.

Ship-launched hypersonic missiles like the YJ-21 can leap through the upper atmosphere for extended range, operate at altitudes too high or too low for traditional missile defense systems like the Aegis and Patriot, and maneuver on unpredictable flight paths to increase difficulty of interception.

Therefore, the best defense option may be to take out hypersonic armed ships in a preemptive strike before they can launch their missiles.

Japan spends a lot of money on its missile arsenal. Image: Twitter

Japan’s missile splurge may also be due to its vulnerability to a blockade as an island nation, which could cut it off from critical imported missile components and supplies in a conflict scenario.

Deterring or breaking a blockade may require maximum independence from foreign missile suppliers.

Although the US is Japan’s main arms supplier, in a conflict scenario the US will need all the missiles it can produce, potentially leaving little for Japan.

Stockpiles of missiles have a limited lifespan measured in years, and for Japan, stockpiling by buying US stocks may be an unsustainable option.

Japan also needs its own missile production capability to handle high rate of fire over an extended period of time should a crisis in the Taiwan Strait or the Korean Peninsula escalate into a war of attrition.


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Japan is making missiles to sink China’s hypersonic threat

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