Japan plans to develop longer-range missiles to counter China, Russia

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TOKYO (Reuters) – Japan will develop and mass produce a cruise missile and a high-velocity ballistic missile, it said this week, as it seeks the ability to strike more distant targets as part of a military expansion aimed at meeting threats from China and Russia.

The procurement plan unveiled in the Ministry of Defence’s annual budget request represents a clear departure from a decades-long range limit imposed on Japan’s constitutionally constrained Self Defence Forces, that meant they could only field missiles with ranges of a few hundred kilometres.

“China continues to threaten to use force to unilaterally change the status quo and is deepening its alliance with Russia,” the ministry said in its budget request.

“It is also applying pressure around Taiwan with supposed military exercises and has not renounced the use of military force as a way to unite Taiwan with the rest of China,” it said.

Alarm about China’s regional ambitions grew this month after it fired five ballistic missiles into waters less than 160 km (100 miles) from Japan in a show of force after U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visited Taiwan.

The ministry also mentioned North Korea as a threat to Japan.

The budget request is for funding to mass produce ground-launched cruise missiles, an extended range version of the Mitsubishi Heavy Industries  designed Type 12 missile already in use, to strike ships, and a new, high-velocity glide ballistic missiles capable of hitting ground targets.

The ministry is also seeking money to develop other projectiles, including hypersonic warheads.

The ministry did not give a range for the proposed weapons, or say how many it planned to field, but they would likely be able to reach targets in mainland China if deployed along Japan’s nearby southwest Okinawa island chain.

Japan has already ordered air-launched missiles, including the Joint Strike Missile (JSM) made by Norway’s Kongsberg, and Lockheed Martin Corp’s  Joint Air-to-Surface Stand-Off Missile (JASSM) with a range of up to 1,000 km (620 miles).

Unlike with ship or ground-based launchers, however, the number it can fire is limited by how many planes it can put in the air to fire them.

The ministry asked for a 3.6% increase in spending to 5.6 trillion yen ($39.78 billion) for the year starting on April 1, but said the figure would rise after it calculated the cost of new procurement programmes.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s government will approve that increased request at the end of the year when it will also unveil a major defence strategy overhaul and new midterm military buildup plan.

Kishida, who has described security in East Asia as “fragile” after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has promised to “substantially” increase defence outlays to prepare Japan for regional conflict.

His ruling Liberal Democratic Party in its upper house election manifesto in July promised to double defence spending to 2% of gross domestic product over five years.

That would make Japan the world’s third biggest military spender behind major ally the United States, and neighbouring China.

In addition to increasing stockpile of missiles and other munitions, Japan’s military wants to develop its cyber defences, electromagnetic warfare capabilities and space presence.

Reporting by Tim Kelly; Editing by Robert Birsel

A Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) hangs inside the South Dakota Air and Space Museum. (U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Adam Olson)

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