The government might add a cruise missile interception function to Aegis Ashore, the land-based defense system it plans to install against North Korean ballistic missiles, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said.

The move is aimed at strengthening Japan’s deterrence against not only North Korea but also China and Russia, both of which are expanding the ranges of their cruise missiles, informed sources said Friday.

China and Russia have cruise missiles with ranges of 1,500 km and 4,500 km, respectively, and both are capable of reaching Japan.

“It’s possible to add a function to intercept cruise missiles to the Aegis Ashore system,” Onodera said at a news conference. “We’ll study measures necessary to protect Japanese citizens from the threat of various missiles.”

Compared with ballistic missiles, which descend from high altitudes to strike targets, it is believed difficult to track cruise missiles on radar because they fly at low altitudes, making interception difficult. In addition, they often change course during flight.

The government is considering introducing a cutting-edge interceptor known as the Standard Missile-6. As part of its missile shield, Japan has deployed the Standard Missile-3 interceptor on Aegis-equipped destroyers.

Under its budget for fiscal 2018 starting in April, the government plans to earmark ¥2.1 billion to acquire test ammunition as part of preparations to arm the destroyers with the SM-6.

The government believes the missile is also compatible with Aegis Ashore.

Two Aegis Ashore batteries can cover all of Japan. The government hopes to have them in operation in fiscal 2023.

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