On June 6, Japan’s Defense Ministry announced that it has signed four contracts worth about 314.7 billion yen ($2.3 billion) with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) to develop its own standoff missiles.
Tokyo is striving to acquire counterstrike capabilities as soon as possible amid heightened tensions in the region over China’s assertive behavior, North Korea’s unstoppable nuclear and missile development, and Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine.
Among the four contracts, most notably, the ministry has awarded KHI a contract worth 33.9 billion yen ($243 million) for research and development of a new type of surface-to-ship missile (SSM).
This new cruise missile uses a small, fuel-efficient turbofan engine as a propulsion device, and has wings like an airplane for horizontal flight. Since it has many similarities with the U.S. “Tomahawk” cruise missile in terms of range, shape, and performance, it has been dubbed as a Japanese version of the Tomahawk by domestic media.
This new missile being developed by KHI is simply known by its project name, “New SSM,” in Japan, although the official name of the missile is “New Anti-Ship Guided Missile for Island Defense.”
Compared to the existing 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 assumed to have a range of 2,500 kilometers – meaning that, if launched from western Japan, it would be able to reach missile bases in inland China.
On this new SSM, Japan’s Defense Minister Hamada Yasukazu said at a press conference in January that “the project is to utilize long-range technology and high-mobility technology that have been obtained through research on elemental technologies of the missile so far.” That research 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, lower radar cross-section (RCS), and higher mobility technologies. By modularizing the missile’s seeker and warhead, the Defense Ministry aims to interchange those parts of the cruise missile, depending on the purpose of the missile launch. For example, in addition to conventional use of hitting the enemy, it could also be used for reconnaissance and radar jamming.
The ministry plans to finish off this project by the end of fiscal year 2027, with the aim of putting the new missile into practical use as soon as possible after that.
In addition to the new SSM, the ministry announced new contracts for three stand-off missile projects, all of which have been awarded to MHI.
The first contract is for research and development of a hypersonic missile from FY2023 to FY2026 (worth about 58.4 billion yen).
The second is for the development of the upgraded version of the Hyper Velocity Gliding Projectile (HVGP) project – called Block II – from FY2023 to FY2027, worth about 200.3 billion yen ($1.4 billion). The weapon, which other nations refer to as a hypersonic glide vehicle (HGV), is expected to have a range of several hundred kilometers to several thousand kilometers. The HVGP is designed for launch using a rocket motor, with the projectile, or glide vehicle, separating from it at a high altitude and then gliding at hypersonic speeds to its target.
The HVGP, which is intended to be used in defending Japan’s remote southwestern islands, will be developed in two variants – Block I and Block II – with the latter featuring greater speed and maneuverability. The ministry said Block I is scheduled to be mass produced from FY2023 and be deployed from FY2026, while Block II is to be deployed in the early 2030s.
The third contract is for the development of so-called “target observation rounds” to search, detect, identify, and collect information on the ground target or enemy vessels while avoiding and breaking through enemy’s air defense network and moving into the vicinity of the target. In order to ensure the effectiveness of stand-off defense capabilities, the Defense Ministry aims to develop target observation rounds that can monitor targets with rapid advancements. This contract is worth 22.1 billion yen ($158 million) and will continue until FY2026.
The ministry plans to mass produce and deploy these three missiles as soon as development is complete.