Japan eyes expanding shield to include downing Chinese cruise missiles

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Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile interceptors are deployed at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo last September. Japan is considering bostering its missile defense capabilities in response to Chinese advances. Photo: Yomiuri Shimbun via AFP

The Asahi Shimbun reports that Japan is eyeing expanding its antimissile capabilities to include downing cruise missiles fired by China in addition to ballistic missiles fired by North Korea.

The idea may be folded into new Japan defense program guidelines and would require even closer cooperation between the Japanese and US militaries under Washington’s so-called Integrated Air and Missile Defense (IAMD) system.

“(The move) is partly intended to bolster Japan’s defenses against North Korea’s ballistic missiles, but the real aim of introducing the IAMD is to counter China, which has been upgrading a number of its missiles,” a senior official with Japan’s Self-Defense Forces was quoted by Asahi as saying.

China has made strides in developing cruise missiles similar to the US Tomahawk cruise missile over the last several years. Such cruise missiles fly at low altitudes and subsonic speeds, hugging the landscape as they approach their targets, and are harder to detect on radar than ballistic missiles.

Land-based North Korean missiles, in comparison, are fired from fixed sites or mobile launchers. Asahi quoted analysts as saying that they fly in parabolic curves whose trajectories are easier to calculate and intercept with antimissile weapons.

Some Japanese defense officials reportedly worry that the IAMD could violate Article 9 of Japan’s pacifist post-war constitution. They are also skeptical of the costs involved and how effective such a system would be in downing cruise and other advanced missiles fired by China and North Korea.

The government is expected to revise Japan’s National Defense Program Guidelines by year’s end.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe signaled the need for a sweeping overhaul of the existing defense program guidelines during a speech on December 15.

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