The Japanese government reportedly wants to acquire Tomahawk cruise missiles as a defense against North Korea’s missile program. If true, this would be a sharp departure from the country’s pacifist security polic, and a reflection of the new reality for nations near North Korea.
Japan’s Self Defence Forces lack the long-range, offensive weapons that could cross the Sea of Japan and preemptively destroy threats such as the Rodong medium-range ballistic missile. North Korea reportedly has between 150 and 200 Rondong missiles. According to the Sankei Shimbun, the government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe wants to buy the BGM-109 Tomahawk cruise missile for just this purpose.
North Korea has repeatedly vowed to attack Japan, and for years now the belligerent regime has maintained it has the ability to lob missiles with conventional warheads at its neighbor. However, Pyongyang’s recent advances in nuclear weapons development have left Tokyo wanting the ability not only to shoot down North Korean missiles but also to destroy them before launch, if need be. Blowing up a stationary missile before launch is certainly easier than hitting a moving target.
First introduced in the 1980s, the Tomahawk missile is designed to cruise at subsonic speeds, flying low to avoid enemy radars. The 18-foot missile has a single turbojet engine that propels it to 550 miles an hour against targets up to 900 miles away. Modern versions are GPS guided. They can be redirected against new targets in flight and can send digital imagery back to their controllers. The missile is equipped with a 1,000-pound high explosive warhead.
Japan wants an unknown number of Tomahawks. The missiles themselves will likely be deployed among Japan’s fleet of Aegis destroyers. Each destroyer has 90 Mk. 41 vertical launch silos, and each silo can accommodate one Tomahawk.
The purchase of offensive cruise missiles would be a first for Japan and a major change in the country’s security policy. Having forsaken war as an instrument of national policy, Japan maintains so-called “Self Defense Forces” that are defensive only. Offensive weapons such as aircraft carriers, marines, and cruise missiles have been prohibited as a matter of policy.
The evolving environment in East Asia has Japan rethinking these prohibitions. The Ground Self Defense Forces-that is, the Japanese Army-is currently training its first brigade of marine infantry. Previously considered a tool of offensive warfare because of their ability to invade from the sea and seize land, marine units were expressly forbidden in postwar Japan. Recently however, with tensions rising over territorial rights in the East China Sea, Japan has reframed the concept of marines as a defensive force that can retake Japanese territory. Similarly, a purchase of Tomahawk missiles would be justified as capable of launching pre-emptive defensive strikes.
How might such…