The government is weighing a plan to equip fighter jets with long-range cruise missiles amid the North Korean nuclear and missile threat, starting with the earmarking of funds for research in its fiscal 2018 budget plan, government sources said Tuesday.
But the move may stir controversy in Japan, which upholds an exclusively defense-oriented policy under the war-renouncing Constitution, since the missiles would be capable of striking enemy bases.
The sources said the government is especially interested in Lockheed Martin Corp.’s JASSM-ER long-range air-to-ground missile, which the company says has a range of over 500 nautical miles (926 km).
“The thinking about introducing missiles nowadays is that the longer the range the better. Our main target will be ships at sea,” a Defense Ministry source said.
Japan needs such a device to defend its remote islands, a senior government official said.
But the move could pave the way for the country to acquire the ability to strike enemy bases.
If Japan possesses cruise missiles with a range of over 900 km, the country would be able to attack nuclear and missile development facilities in North Korea without approaching the Korean Peninsula.
The government maintains the position that possessing the ability to strike enemy bases is possible under the Constitution if it can be considered self-defense.
But Japan has so far opted not to equip its defense forces with cruise missiles and other armaments capable of attacking the territory of another country, leaving that role to its key ally, the United States.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe previously told lawmakers that the government has no intention of changing the current roles played by Japan and the United States.
When asked about an ability to strike enemy bases, Abe said the government is responsible for considering all options when it comes to protecting the lives of Japanese civilians.