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Counterattack capability planned for Japan’s forthcoming Aegis destroyers

Felix Kim

Japan’s Defense Ministry is seeking to develop a missile-based counterattack capability in response to looming missile threats from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and North Korea. Two planned additions to Japan’s naval fleet of Aegis destroyers potentially would be equipped with long-range cruise missiles and hypervelocity glide weapons. To pay for the capability, the Defense Ministry has requested its largest budget.

“We believe that two Aegis-equipped ships should be able to protect Japan continuously at all times, depending on the situation, and should have the capability to respond to a variety of missile threats,” Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters September 2, 2022.

Plans for the vessels include hypersonic weapons capability and capacity to endure long-term deployments, Hamada said, adding that the acquisition of ship designs and components is included in the fiscal year 2023 budget request and will be accelerated to bring the destroyers into service.

“We believe it is an extremely important initiative to drastically strengthen our defense capabilities within five years,” he said, according to the USNI News website, published by the United States Naval Institute.

The record budget request is estimated at U.S. $43 billion, Japan’s Nikkei Asia news magazine reported. (Pictured: Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada visits Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Yokosuka Naval Base on September 5, 2022).

Integrated into the U.S.-developed Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System, the new destroyers will be Japan’s largest at 210 meters long with a displacement of about 20,000 tons, joining a fleet of eight Aegis destroyers, according to Japanese Defense Ministry documents. A launch date has not been announced. The JS Kongo was Japan’s first ship to have the Aegis system installed in 2007, although testing took several years.

The Hyper-Velocity Gliding Projectile (HVGP), which Hamada said could be launched from the new destroyers, is being developed with the PRC’s growing military capabilities in mind, the online magazine Naval News reported August 17, 2022.

Carried to high altitudes by booster rocket, the projectile would separate and glide at supersonic speeds, guided by satellite to its target on the ground or at sea. With a range of at least several hundred kilometers, the HVGP could play a central role in defending Japan’s remote islands, such as the Senkakus, analysts said.

Also included in the budget request is funding for an upgraded version of Japan’s Type 12 surface-to-ship missile, with a range of up to 1,200 kilometers, Naval News reported. The new destroyers could launch the proposed projectile at land targets as a cruise missile, according to Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun newspaper. Such a range could encompass targets in the PRC, giving Japan the ability to destroy missile launch sites in self-defense, which could deter enemy attacks.

In making its budget request, Japan’s Defense Ministry identified the PRC and North Korea as threats, Reuters reported. Five ballistic missiles launched by the People’s Liberation Army during its destabilizing drills in the Taiwan Strait in August 2022 landed in waters within 160 kilometers of Japan. Meanwhile, North Korea has fired numerous missiles into the Sea of Japan, most recently in May 2022.

Hamada emphasized that Japan’s new weapons would only be for self-defense.

“Possessing so-called offensive weapons whose performance is exclusively used for the catastrophic destruction of the other country’s national territory immediately exceeds the minimum necessary range for self-defense,” he said. “Therefore, we have been thinking that it is unacceptable in any case, and we have no intention of changing this consistent view.”

Felix Kim is a FORUM contributor reporting from Seoul, South Korea.


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