Tomahawk Missiles: Japan To Spend Billions On Procuring & Deploying US Navy Missiles To Deter China

Japan has set aside more than $2 billion to procure and deploy US-made Tomahawk missiles on its naval destroyers as part of a historic defense buildup to deter China and North Korea.

The spending is a part of the record-breaking defense budget, which totals 6.82 trillion yen ($51.4 billion) for the fiscal year beginning in April and was approved by the cabinet on December 23. 

Tokyo announced last week that it would nearly double military spending over the next five years, marking one of the largest military buildups since the end of World War II. 

In its most recent budget, Japan allotted around $10.6 billion to develop the capability to use missiles to strike military targets in enemy countries in the event of an attack. This represents a major shift in strategy meant to deter neighboring nations from launching an offensive. 

Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Japan might launch a counteroffensive before being hit by missiles or other weapons if it found that an adversary was planning an attack. According to some opposition politicians, if Japan incorrectly interprets an enemy’s objectives, it runs the possibility of unintentionally starting a conflict. 

In August, China launched missiles into the water close to a few of Japan’s southern islands as part of a military display around Taiwan. North Korea fired a missile over Japan in October. 

File Image: Tomahawk Missile via USNI

Tomahawk missiles will cost $1.6 billion, and $832 million will go toward technical support and training to ensure Japan’s Aegis destroyers can fire them. The Defense Ministry stated that the missile deployment is anticipated to start after spring 2026.

The ministry declared that the price of the missiles, which generally cost the US military roughly $1.7 million each, would be negotiated. It chose not to say how many missiles it wished to purchase. 

Both the Pentagon and the company that makes the Tomahawks, Raytheon Technologies Corp, declined to comment on any future weapon sales. 

Why Does Japan Want To Procure Tomahawks?

Tomahawk cruise missiles are precision weapons that can hit targets precisely, even in well-guarded airspace. These missiles are launched from ships and submarines. The range of a Tomahawk cruise missile is 1,000 miles.

Tomahawk cruise missiles can obliterate structures and leave blast craters up to 20 feet wide. This potency stems from the fact that they can carry a conventional warhead weighing roughly 1,000 pounds.

These long-range missiles were made to fly at subsonic speeds while keeping a low altitude, making it impossible for radar to detect them. They are capable of penetrating deep into enemy territory.

The missiles were widely used in Libya, Syria, and Iraq, and the US has a stockpile of about 4,000. It’s anticipated that 100 of them will be used each year for training and testing. 

Tomahawks’ sole export customer at the moment is the UK. Australia has also signaled interest in buying missiles that could be modified to fire from its current submarine fleet. 

According to the CSIS Missile Defense Project, Tomahawks can be fired “from over 140 US Navy ships and submarines, including four converted Ohio-class submarines, as well Astute, Swiftsure, and Trafalgar-class submarines of the Royal Navy.”

Tokyo aims to spend around $38 billion over the next five years on deploying missiles that can attack an enemy target from a great distance. The Tomahawk purchases are a part of that. 

Tokyo also intends to increase the Type 12 surface-to-ship missile’s existing range. These modified missiles won’t be prepared until spring 2026 or later, according to estimates.

The defense minister stated that Japan wished to have an already established missile, such as the Tomahawk, in case its homegrown missile projects were delayed. “You never know what’s going to happen at the development stage,” he remarked.

Tokyo has been alarmed by North Korea’s hundreds of ballistic missiles that can reach Japan, but some experts believe Beijing’s potential military adventurism near Taiwan and the Japanese-controlled Senkaku Islands poses a more immediate threat.

The Pentagon estimates that China has more than 1,000 ballistic missiles and about 300 ground-based cruise missiles capable of hitting Japan. If Taiwan were to be attacked, analysts suggest the weapons could be used against American and Japanese forces.

That being said, the procurement of Tomahawks by Japan is much more complicated than it appears at first glance. In 2013, Japan approached the US unofficially about purchasing the weapon, but the US declined the request.