Japan’s Defense Ministry announced Wednesday, June 7, that it had signed four contracts worth 314.7 billion yen ($2.3 billion) with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) to develop their own missiles.

Tokyo is striving to acquire counter-strike capabilities as soon as possible amid rising tensions in the region over China’s assertive behavior, North Korea’s relentless nuclear and missile development and Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine.

Among the four contracts, the one that the ministry has awarded to KHI for 33.9 billion yen (243 million dollars) for the research and development of a new type of surface-to-ship missile (SSM) stands out.

This new cruise missile uses a small, fuel-efficient turbofan engine as its propulsion device and has wings like an airplane for horizontal flight. Since it bears many similarities to the US “Tomahawk” cruise missile in range, shape and performance, the national media dubbed it the Japanese version of the Tomahawk.

Compared to the current MHI Type 12 SSM, which the Japan Ground Self-Defense Force began procuring in 2012, the new SSM will have a longer range. The new anti-ship missile is supposed to have a range of 2,500 kilometers, meaning that if launched from western Japan, it could hit missile bases deep in China.

About this new SSM, Japan’s Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu said at a press conference in January that “the project is to use the long-range technology and high-mobility technology that has been obtained through the research of elementary missile technologies so far.” That investigation began in fiscal year 2018.

During the current fiscal year 2023, the ministry plans to develop a prototype of the multi-mission missile that features longer-range technologies, smaller radar cross section (RCS) and higher mobility. By modularizing the seeker and warhead of the missile, the MoD intends to interchange those parts of the cruise missile based on the purpose of launching the missile. For example, in addition to the conventional use of hitting the enemy, it could also be used for reconnaissance and radar jamming.

The ministry plans to finish this project by the end of fiscal year 2027, with the goal of putting the new missile into practical use as soon as possible after that date.

In addition to the new SSM, the ministry announced new contracts for three stand-off missile projects, all awarded to MHI. The first contract is for the research and development of a hypersonic missile from the fiscal year 2023 to the fiscal year 2026 (worth about 58.4 billion yen).

The second is for the development of the upgraded version of the Hypervelocity Glider Projectile (HVGP) project – called Block II – from FY2023 to FY2027, worth about 200.3 billion yen (1.4 billion US dollars). The weapon, which other countries refer to as a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), is expected to have a range of several hundred to several thousand kilometers. The HVGP is designed to be launched using a rocket motor, from which the projectile, or glide vehicle, is detached at high altitude and then glides at hypersonic speeds to its target.

The HVGP, intended for the defense of the remote islands in southwestern Japan, will be developed in Block I and Block II, the latter with greater speed and maneuverability. According to the Ministry, Block I is scheduled to be mass-produced from FY2023 and deployed from FY2026, while Block II will be deployed in the early 2030s.

The third contract is for the development of the so-called “target observation rounds” to search, detect, identify and gather information about the ground target or enemy ships while avoiding and breaking through the enemy’s air defense network and moving in the vicinity of the target. In order to ensure the effectiveness of remote defense capabilities, the Ministry of Defense intends to develop target observation rounds that can monitor targets with rapid advances. This contract is valued at 22.1 billion yen ($158 million) and will run through fiscal year 2026.

The Ministry plans to mass-produce and deploy these three missiles as soon as their development is complete.

Takahashi Kosuke