Japan Approved To Buy 400 Tomahawk Cruise Missiles

The State Department on Friday approved a potential $2.35 billion sale of 400 Tomahawk cruise missiles to Japan. The deal would allow for Japan to receive up to 200 Tomahawk Block IV and 200 Tomahawk Block V All Up Rounds (AUR) and related equipment.

The approval comes after years of talk that Japan would procure long-range land attack cruise missile capability via Tomahawk and is another glaring example of the country’s changing military policy when it comes to ‘offensive’ weaponry. This is primarily spurred by tensions mounting in the Pacific that have pushed Japan to expand its counterstrike capacity against potential threats, especially emanating from China and North Korea.

Japan is planning to use the Tomahawks on its Aegis destroyers, although ground and submarine launch platforms are also a possibility in the future.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Chafee (DDG 90) launches a Block V Tomahawk, the weapon’s newest variant, during a three-day missile exercise in December 2020. This event marked the first time a Block V Tomahawk missile was operationally tested. U.S. Navy photo by Ens. Sean Ianno/Released

The Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force has eight Aegis destroyers: four Kongō class, two Atago class and two Maya class — Japan’s latest in-service Aegis capable destroyers.

The Tomahawks would add a new offensive kinetic dimension to these vessels. Equipped with powerful radar systems and an assortment of surface-to-air missiles, as well as anti-ship and anti-submarine weapons, they currently serve, in part, as floating air and missile defense platforms. You can read more about these vessels here.

In October, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Japanese Defense Minister Minoru Kihara met at the Pentagon, where Japan asked to speed up delivery of the Tomahawks.

“The Ministers confirmed to steadily progress efforts to strengthen Alliance capabilities to deter and respond under the new strategies,” the Japanese Defense Ministry said in a media release at the time. “They confirmed accelerated discussions on roles, missions and capabilities of the Alliance including effective operation of counterstrike capabilities under Japan-U.S. cooperation.”

Japan is considering deploying Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles on its submarines. (Raytheon photo) Raytheon

The Block IV Tomahawk can hit targets nearly 1,000 miles away with a 1,000-pound unitary warhead. It is capable of rerouting mid-flight and can loiter over an area to hit targets as they emerge, featuring an imaging infrared seeker capability. The Block V variant is an improved version with survivability upgrades that can be used to also hit moving targets, especially in the long-range anti-ship missile role.

Japan had originally planned to purchase 400 of the Tomahawk Block V missiles, but decided to also seek the earlier version in a procurement plan that will stretch between Fiscal Yearl 2025 and Fiscal Year 2027, Japan Times reported last month.

Tokyo plans to use the Tomahawks to fill immediate gaps in an initial five-year plan while the range of its Type 12 anti-ship missile now in development is extended, the publication reported. Japan has been working to field its own long-range land attack cruise missile for some time. It’s likely locally-developed types are envisioned as now serving alongside Tomahawks in the long term.

Japan’s request for an offensive weapon like the TLAMs is another example of its move away from its traditional self-defense posture as China ramps up its aggressive actions in the region and North Korea touts its growing missile arsenal. As such, the TLAM is seen as much as a conventional deterrent as anything else. Japan is also acquiring air-launched cruise missiles for land attack applications.

Tomahawk has a growing presence in the Pacific as Australia is also acquiring the type, which you can read more about here.

Contact the author: howard@thewarzone.com