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Japan weighs up Tomahawk missile procurement

A Tactical ‘Tomahawk' Block IV cruise missile conducts a controlled flight test over the Naval Air Systems Command's western test range complex in Southern California. (US Navy)

Japan's Ministry of Defense (MoD) is considering the procurement of Tomahawk cruise missiles as part of its plan to bolster Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) counterstrike capability.

The MoD indicated to Janes that a procurement of the Tomahawk is a possibility as it seeks to redefine the country's defence posture in the face of what is perceived in Tokyo as rapidly escalating regional threats.

Japan's Kyodo news agency, citing a Japanese government source, reported on 30 November that the MoD is considering the acquisition of “about 500” Tomahawk missiles from the United States government between 2023 and 2027.

A spokesperson for the MoD did not confirm these plans but said that decisions on the Tomahawk “are still under consideration”. The spokesperson added, “The MoD has not decided anything [in relation to] counterstrike capability.”

Should Japan proceed with a programme to procure the Tomahawk, it would be first user of the system outside the UK and the US. Navies in these countries use the weapon on a range of surface and subsurface combatants.

Janes Weapons: Naval describes the Tomahawk as a submarine- and surface-launched subsonic land-attack cruise missile with inertial navigation system (INS) guidance. The missile, produced by Raytheon, is capable of hitting moving targets with multimode and mid-course guidance.

The range of the Tomahawk, depending on versions of the missile, varies from 550 to 2,500 km. The most recent versions of the missile – designated Block IV – are integrated with a datalink to enable the switching of targets while in flight and are capable of loitering for “prolonged duration”, according to Janes Weapons: Naval.

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