The second and final ship of Japan’s Maya-class Missile Defense Destroyers has begun its sea trials after which it will be officially commissioned into the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force. The Destroyer is specifically designed to intercept ballistic missiles in a defensive posture.
Previously Japan had considered using ground-based systems in the role of ballistic missile defense, however, those plans have been suspended in favor of the current sea-borne approach to ballistic missile defense.
The JS Haguro (DDG-180), which is currently undergoing sea trials, is scheduled to be commissioned by 2021 and join its sister ship the JS Maya (DDG-179) which was commissioned in March of 2020.
Both ships make use of the SM-3 Block IIA and SM-6 shipborne anti-ballistic missile missiles. The SM-3 Block IIA are the latest variant of missiles developed during a joint program between the United States and Japan. Meanwhile, the SM-6 missiles, developed by the United States, is capable of intercepting both medium-range ballistic missiles as well as doubling as an anti-ship missile should the need arise.
The Haguro left its shipbuilder – JMU Yokohama – earlier this week to begin its sea trials. Typically a ship undergoing sea trials will go through several smaller trials focusing on the just system or one group of systems. Normally these include speed trials, crash stops, endurance trials, and maneuvering trials. Successful completion will enable the ship to be commissioned into the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force.
While the Aegis Ashore program has been suspended, the Maya-class destroyers will not be sufficient to completely defend Japan against ballistic missiles. In order for complete coverage to be available, Japan would have to keep 3 destroyers at sea at all times to provide a comprehensive defense. This was the key driver behind the Aegis Ashore program.
National broadcaster NHK reports that Japan’s Prime Minister will hold a meeting with Japan’s National Security Community to find an alternative solution to the Aegis Ashore program. It remains to be seen if this will lead to further destroyers or a fresh shore-based effort.