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Japan Will Make Its Own Hypersonic Missiles

April 13, 2022
Via Wikimedia Commons.

The yearly “Defense Programs and Budget of Japan” report is among the most useful public documents for analyzing Tokyo’s ideas for equipping its military. With an out of control regional arms race going on Tokyo cannot afford paying lip service to self-defense when the entire national territory is under threat. This sentiment isn’t found inside the latest Defense Programs and Budget of Japan – Overview of FY2022 Budget Request but its details emphasize where the threat comes from: China. A critical part of Japan’s military transformation is underway as funding to develop a hypersonic glider is now published along with other high tech weapon systems.

On page 31 of its budget request for 2022 the MOD lists its requirements to build a “stand-off defense capability” and the costs involved. The essential technology is the Type 12 “ship-to-shore” or anti-ship missile in its road mobile variant. (Pictured above.) The MOD wants the missile to become adapted for all platforms or delivery methods whether it’s on aircraft or ships. But the interesting details are what are listed under the Type 12. These are “research on a hyper velocity gliding projectile” estimated to cost $120 million at the current exchange rate accompanied by further research on “elemental technologies” and an “active radar seeker” for the planned vehicle. The total cost estimates related to this “hyper velocity” project are in the $160 million range. This is a helpful detail given the absolute secrecy that keeps most government programs to assemble hypersonic gliders for military purposes hidden from the public eye.

This request by the MOD for broad technical research on a “hyper velocity gliding projectile” is a slight change from the budget request of 2021 when $16 million was the amount assigned for a “study on concept of HGV tracking systems” and a further $120 million was needed to begin research on a “hyper velocity gliding projectile for defense of remote islands.” The continuation of the same request might be proof that Tokyo is reluctant to pursue a missile with hypersonic flight characteristics. This decision has its consequences as tactical missiles are proliferating at a record pace in Asia. The MOD’s concept of a “hyper velocity gliding projectile,” when connected to the improvements it seeks on the Type 12 AshM, suggests the desired result is a cruise missile similar to those under development in the US such as the Lockheed Martin Hypersonic Air-Breathing Weapon Concept (HAWC).

Via Japan MOD.

Time is of the essence for Japan and its self-defense oriented armed forces. Its main adversaries China and North Korea have introduced road mobile ballistic missiles armed with hypersonic gliders. To make matters worse there could be three other semi-secret projects by China’s aerospace and military-industrial to harness the potential of hypersonic gliders for delivering lethal warheads. These could involve an entirely new glider design that circumnavigates the entire planet, a cruise missile for protecting nearby bodies of water, and perhaps another glider vehicle tailored for an existing road mobile ICBM. Meanwhile, Russia is putting together an entire generation of nuclear-capable missiles that incorporate hypersonic glider technology.

The current breakthroughs in “hypersonic” missiles are driven by the potential for the glide or glider vehicles–these are airframes designed to withstand extreme temperatures as they accelerate more than five times the speed of sound–to maneuver and defeat missile defenses. But countries who plan to assemble these types of weapon systems must have the research and testing facilities at hand for designing the required airframes and their unique geometries. The location of laboratories equipped with hypersonic wind tunnels for achieving these designs are easy to access. The real surprises are the successful efforts of countries like North Korea at accomplishing the same when the extent of its own aerospace engineering is unknown. Elsewhere in Asia the combination of hypersonic flight and existing missile technology is being pursued in India and Turkey. Australia has announced its intention to explore the technology.

Japan’s MOD is obsessed with strategies for protecting distant islands such as Okinawa should war break out with its neighbors. If an invasion of its territory is underway its crucial to detect imminent threats and have reinforcements arrive immediately while onsite defenses are in place and activated on the first day of hostilities. The entirety of Defense Programs and Budget of Japan – Overview of FY2022 Budget Request is available for download here.

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