Japan plans to upgrade Aegis ships to carry Tomahawk missiles by 2027.
The Aegis-equipped destroyer Maya of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force in Yokohama.

A government source on Saturday revealed that Japan intends to modify its eight Aegis destroyers to accommodate U.S.-purchased Tomahawk cruise missiles by the fiscal year 2027.

With escalating nuclear and missile threats from North Korea and China’s military rise, Japan is looking to acquire capabilities that can hit targets inside an adversary’s territory, hence this move.

The source claims that Japan wants to buy the newest Tomahawk Block-5 missiles, which have a range of around 1,600 kilometers. The government has planned ahead and allocated 211.3 billion yen ($1.6 billion) in the 2023 fiscal year’s budget to purchase 400 Tomahawks. This fiscal year will begin in April.

Two Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels equipped with the Aegis missile defense system are currently stationed at the Yokosuka naval base in Kanagawa prefecture. Two others are at the Maizuru base in Kyoto prefecture, and the remaining four are at the Sasebo base in Nagasaki prefecture.

The government plans to allocate funds to renew each ship’s rapid-firing vertical launch system starting in the fiscal year 2024 to install Tomahawk missiles.

Japan’s new-class Aegis destroyers are equipped with a vertical launch system that can carry up to 96 missiles. But it is unlikely that they will be equipped only with Tomahawks since the ships are also intended to intercept ballistic missiles.

As a replacement for its abandoned proposal to deploy an Aegis missile defense system on land, Japan now aims to add two more Aegis ships by the fiscal year 2032 and commission two ships to be built by the fiscal year 2028.

Late last year, Japan decided to purchase so-called counter-strike capabilities and double its defense spending in a dramatic reversal of its postwar security policy under the nation’s war-renounced Constitution.

The Japanese government has long argued that attacking enemy bases is legal under the Constitution as long as doing so is justified as a means of self-defense. So far, however, Japan’s security ally, the United States, has been responsible for providing such capabilities to the Japanese Self-Defense Forces.

Japan’s new National Security Strategy emphasizes the need to have the ability to launch a counterattack in the case of a missile assault from an enemy.