Japan announced on Friday that it will develop new “stand-off” anti-ship missiles that will be able to target warships from a longer distance around its southwestern Okinawa island chain, particularly near disputed islets in the East China Sea that China also claims.
“The security environment around our southwestern islands has become harsh. We have to respond to that in an appropriate way,” Japanese Minister of Defense Nobuo Kishi said at a press briefing.
The missiles would allow Japan to strengthen its anti-access area denial (A2AD) strategy, which aims to prevent foreign forces from freely operating in waters near its own territory.
Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga’s first major defense policy decision comes as Japan buys air-launched missiles that might be used to destroy North Korean missile sites and considers other offensive weapons such as cruise missiles that may reach ground targets in China.
China’s involvement in the East China Sea has increased Japan’s concerns, including incursions into waters near the disputed islands known as the Senkaku in Japan and the Diaoyu in China.
The Okinawa islands are part of a chain that stretches from Japan to the Philippines and serves as a deterrent against Chinese expansion.
“Defending Japan’s southwestern islands require longer-range systems because the islands cover a large area and Japan needs overlapping fields of fire,” said Zack Cooper, a research fellow at the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute.
Japan claimed its new standoff missile would be based on a truck-mounted anti-ship variant with a range of 200 kilometers (124 miles) that is already in use on the Okinawa islands.
The ministry did not specify the range or when they would be deployed.
On Friday, Japan said that it would equip two new warships with new powerful Aegis radars with at least three times the range of existing Aegis systems in order to beef up defenses against any ballistic missiles fired by North Korea.
According to a person familiar with the idea, deploying the new Aegis radars on ships may cost twice as much and take three years longer than the two ground-based versions it scrapped in June. The cost of the ground-based variants was projected to be around $2 billion by Japan.
The government did not provide a cost estimate or an estimate of how long the vessels would take to build.