Japan Pursues Hypersonic Missiles for Remote Island Defense

Japan has joined the growing number of countries investing in hypersonic missile systems. The Japanese defense ministry plans to develop hypersonic missiles and new warheads and deploy the first systems in 2026. The weapons systems will be deployed on Japan’s island bases, to solidify Japanese defense of their remote islands in the East China Sea. Japan, long concerned by what it sees as Chinese encroachment in the area, has pushed two hypersonic weapon systems into development, the Hyper Velocity Glide Projectile (HVGP) and the Hypersonic Missile (HSM), with the goal of improving their defensive and offensive postures in the region.

Japan are not alone in the development of hypersonic missiles, the US has a number of ongoing programs as does the Russian Federation, who are set to continue tests of their 3M22 Zircon hypersonic anti-ship missile. China is also developing their own hypersonic glide vehicle, with the DF-ZF/WU-14 first appearing in in 2014, and allegedly entering service in late 2019.

Hyper Velocity Glide Projectile diagram from the Japanese Aquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency

The program consists of both warheads and delivery systems, each with two versions. The HVGP and HCM, the two delivery systems, will face a two-stage deployment, with a different warhead for each stage. The first stage will come with a warhead designed with existing capabilities and technologies, whose main purpose will be island to island conflict, to be expected in 2026.
The second stage will usher in a warhead with the ability to aim at moving targets to be used against surface ships. This warhead and system will be designed to be able to penetrate the deck of an aircraft carrier and is expected in the early 2030s. The HCM system will have a scramjet engine for propulsion while the HVGP will rely on a solid-fuelled rocket. Both systems will be ground-based systems.

Japan has been funding this project since 2018. 18.5 billion yen [$170 million] were allocated by the Japanese government for the 2018 and 2019 budgets for research on these hypersonic systems with plans of an additional 25 billion yen [$230 million] for this year’s budget. This project comes at a time when Japan is seeking to increase their military capabilities in light of Chinese expansion and American withdrawal from the region.