The Defense Ministry will crank into high gear its research to develop a high-output military laser that can intercept mortar rounds and enemy drones flying at low altitudes.
The ministry included development outlays of ¥8.7 billion for such research in the fiscal 2018 budget.
It plans to open bidding soon for the building of a prototype land-based laser weapons system for research use and hopes to complete a technical evaluation by fiscal 2023, sources said.
Many countries, including the United States and China, have begun to develop laser weapons. The U.S. military has already started operating such weapons installed on landing ships.
The time available to intercept missiles and similar weapons has become increasingly short due to improvements in the stealth capabilities of fighter jets, the lowering of missile flight altitudes and increasing missile speeds.
Laser weapons can destroy targets instantly, reducing the need for trajectory calculations that are essential for current missile interceptors.
Unlike missiles and anti-aircraft artillery shells, the lack of debris from laser weapons means less damage at ground level.
The operational costs of laser weapons, with little chance of missing their targets, are believed to be much lower than those of missile defense systems, which require missile replacement after firing.
In the U.S. military, a single laser beam is said to cost about one dollar.
The ministry is grappling with the issue of raising laser output. It is developing equipment capable of firing lasers of up to 50 kilowatts, but destroying a target requires output of some 100 kilowatts.
The sources said the ministry plans to promote research and development with the intent of using laser weapons to intercept long-range cruise missiles and fighter jets in the future.