• US Navy guided missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) conducts a tomahawk missile flight test while underway in the western Pacific.
Credit: US Navy
    US Navy guided missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) conducts a tomahawk missile flight test while underway in the western Pacific. Credit: US Navy

Japan has taken a big step towards acquiring a standoff land attack capability for the first time with the US State Department approving a potential Foreign Military Sales (FMS) package for Tomahawk cruise missiles.

The US Defense Security and Cooperation Agency (DSCA) announced on 17 November that approval had been given to Japan’s request to buy up to 200 Tomahawk Block IV All Up Rounds (AURs, designated the RGM-109E) and a similar number of Tomahawk Block V AURs (RGM-109E).

Japan had also requested 14 Tactical Tomahawk Weapon Control Systems (TTWCS) and other associated equipment and support. The estimated total program cost is US$2.35 billion (A$3.59 billion).

The main contractor for this proposed sale will be Raytheon, with Japan likely to equip the destroyers of the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) with the weapons. Most of the service’s 36 active destroyers are equipped with the Mk.41 Vertical Launch System that can employ the Tomahawk.

Japan is also introducing the Mogami-class and a follow-on class of frigates that are equipped with the Mk.41 VLS and is also developing two Aegis system equipped vessels (ASEV) that will replace its cancelled plans to deploy the Aegis Ashore system. These are planned to be primarily for the Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) role, although they will also be equipped with the Mk.41 launch system.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida had previously disclosed that Japan will be looking to purchase the Tomahawks, and that they will be deployed around 2026 or 2027, serving as a weapon to meet its standoff land attack capabilities until indigenous weapons currently under development enter service.

These include the extended range Type 12 Surface-to-Ship Missile which is having its range increased to 900 - and eventually - 1500 km (486 and 810 nautical miles) as well as two different hypersonic missiles being developed by the US ally’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency (ATLA).

The acquisition of standoff land-attack weapons has previously been a contentious issue in Japan, whose pacifist post-World War II constitution and political constraints have limited its Self Defense Forces (SDF) from eschewing weapons that might been perceived in offensive in nature are not expressly for self-defence needs.

However, China’s dramatic military transformation and its increasingly belligerent behaviour in the Indo-Pacific, together with North Korea’s nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, has smoothened the political path for Japan to broaden the capability of the SDF, including standoff strike capabilities.

The Block IV Tomahawk Land Attack Missile (TLAM) has an improved turbofan engine that allows better fuel economy and the ability to change speed in flight, reaching reported ranges of 1700 km (900 nm). They also have better loiter capability are fitted with electro-optical sensors that allow real-time battle damage assessment.

In addition, the Block IV also has the capability to be reprogrammed to attack a different target while airborne and can transmit an image, via satcom, immediately before impact to help determine whether the missile is on target and the likely damage from the attack.

The Tomahawk Block V was introduced in 2021 with improvements to navigation and in-flight targeting. The subvariant is further divided into the Block Va Maritime Strike Tomahawk (MST) that can engage ship targets; and the Block Vb that is fitted with the Joint Multi Effects Warhead System for attacking hardened targets.

ADM Comment: Japan is only the third country outside the United States to gain State Department approval for the Tomahawk missile system behind the UK and – most recently – Australia.

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