The government is thinking of buying and deploying cruise missiles in response to North Korea’s provocative missile and nuclear tests, an official has said.
The government is eager to set aside funds to study the feasibility of acquiring the ability to strike enemy missile sites, and could do so in the draft budget for fiscal 2018, the official said Friday on condition of anonymity.
However, there are concerns in the government and ruling bloc that acquiring such offensive potential would contradict Japan’s exclusively defense-oriented “posture” and trigger a backlash from opposition parties, even though they have in recent years been virtually incapable of reining in the ruling camp.
According to the official, the government is looking to purchase the Tomahawk cruise missile, the same weapon used by the U.S. to attack a Syrian airfield last month.
The Tomahawk is a long-range, all-weather, subsonic cruise missile. It has enough range to hit any part of North Korea from the Sea of Japan and can fly at extremely low altitudes, making it less noticeable to radar.
The government is considering deploying Tomahawks on Aegis-equipped vessels in the Maritime Self-Defense Force fleet, the official said. The ships would have to be modified to use them, if they are actually introduced.
The United States, Japan’s security ally, was cautious about Tokyo acquiring cruise missiles but has since moderated its stance in light of tensions on the Korean Peninsula, according to a Defense Ministry source.
To acquire a strike capability, Japan would need to revise the guidelines for its 10-year defense program ahead of schedule and review the five-year defense buildup plan as well. Both were approved by the Cabinet in late 2013.
A panel on security issues in the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is expected to propose recommendations on improving Japan’s defensive capabilities later this month, with an eye on helping the government explore the option of attaining a strike capability as well.
In a Diet committee meeting on Jan. 26, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said a decision to strike enemy launch sites when there is no alternative would fall under the category of self-defense under the reinterpreted war-renouncing Constitution, thereby expressing his belief that the possession of a strike capability would pose no dilemma for Japan.