Japan to buy Tomahawks from U.S. earlier than planned: Kihara

by Oct 5, 2023Featured Article, News

Japan will start procuring Tomahawk cruise missiles from the United States in fiscal 2025, a year earlier than initially planned, as the security environment surrounding the country is becoming more severe, Defense Minister Minoru Kihara said Wednesday.

Kihara, who took up his new post in a cabinet reshuffle in mid-September, made the announcement in Washington after holding his first face-to-face talks with his U.S. counterpart Lloyd Austin.

Given the new security challenges presented by China, North Korea and Russia, Kihara and Austin confirmed their mutual interest in strengthening the Japan-U.S. alliance’s deterrence and response capabilities while modernizing the partners’ roles and missions, officials of the two countries said.

As part of efforts to bolster its defense capabilities, Japan plans to purchase 400 Tomahawks, which have a strike range of about 1,600 kilometers. Its initial schedule was to start deploying the U.S.-made missiles in fiscal 2026.

The defense chiefs “shared the recognition” that the procurement of Tomahawk Block-4 missiles will begin in the Japanese fiscal year starting in April 2025, one of the officials said, noting that the purchase still needs to be approved by the U.S. Congress, with both sides for this reason refraining from calling it formally “agreed.”

Originally, Japan was planning to buy the latest Tomahawk Block-5 missiles in fiscal 2026 and 2027 to install them on Maritime Self-Defense Force Aegis destroyers.

Of the 400, it now plans to buy up to 200 of the previous version starting in fiscal 2025, according to the official.

For the purchase, the Japanese government has earmarked 211.3 billion yen in the budget for fiscal 2023 that started in April. The change will likely reduce the procurement cost.

Tomahawks, first used in the 1991 Gulf War, can cover Chinese coastal areas and are deemed essential by Japanese officials to beef up Tokyo’s defense capabilities until it can introduce domestically made cruise missiles.

“This is a time of historic momentum in the U.S.-Japan alliance,” Austin said as he welcomed Kihara at the Pentagon.

Austin said he wants to work closely with Kihara to make the alliance even stronger because of China’s “coercive behavior, North Korea’s dangerous provocations and Russia’s war of choice against Ukraine.”

During the meeting that lasted almost an hour, the defense chiefs discussed priorities for Japanese and U.S. forces in the years to come, including how best to maintain an open, free, and rules-based Indo-Pacific, according to the officials.

As they met, Kihara said Japan and the United States need to “strengthen the alliance’s capabilities to deter and respond” to any attempts to change the status quo by force, which cannot be tolerated in any region, including the Indo-Pacific.

Late last year, Japan approved plans to significantly bolster its defense capabilities and sharply increase spending toward that end, with the United States warmly welcoming the development.

The move put Japan on a path to acquiring “counterstrike” capabilities, or the ability to hit enemy bases should the need arise, in a major policy shift under the country’s war-renouncing Constitution.

Kihara, who was a special national security adviser to former Japanese prime ministers Shinzo Abe and Yoshihide Suga, arrived in the U.S. capital on Tuesday for a three-day visit.

Also high on the agenda for the meeting was trilateral cooperation with South Korea to deal with North Korea’s missile and nuclear threat, as well as continuing support for Ukraine as it battles Russia’s invasion, now in its 20th month.

Citing a summit U.S. President Joe Biden hosted at his Camp David retreat in mid-August with the leaders of Japan and South Korea, Austin said the three countries’ forces should forge closer ties through new initiatives such as sharing real-time missile warning data and joint exercises.