Japan considering arming submarines with long-range cruise missiles to improve counterattack

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Maritime Self-Defense Force submarines may soon be equipped with long-range cruise missiles capable of striking ground-based targets, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learned.

The move would aim to boost Japan’s deterrence by providing a powerful counterattack capability to discourage a possible attack on the nation.

The domestically produced missiles would be launched from underwater and give tangible shape to the nation’s self-defense capacity to strike and destroy an enemy’s missile bases and other facilities.

According to multiple government sources, the missiles are expected to be deployed from the latter half of this decade.

The National Security Strategy, which spells out Japan’s basic policy on national security, will be revised at the end of 2022. Prime Minister Fumio Kishida aims to have these updated guiding principles specify that Japan may possess the ability to strike enemy bases in the name of self-defense. Should the government decide to possess this capability, submarine-launched cruise missiles would form a powerful tool for any counterattack.

The government is contemplating deploying long-range cruise missiles as standoff missiles that would be developed as a modified version of the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Type-12 surface-to-ship guided missile, the sources said. The standoff missiles are expected to have a range of about 1,000 kilometers and be used for counterattacks against enemy ships and other targets from outside the range of the enemy’s missiles. In the future, it is expected these missiles also could be used to strike enemy bases.

Japan’s missiles with standoff defense capabilities currently are designed to be carried by aircraft and on surface ships. The Defense Ministry has incorporated development costs of ¥39.3 billion in the draft budget for fiscal 2022, which starts in April.

According to the sources, options being considered include adding a vertical launching system to the submarines so missiles could be fired without the vessels surfacing and firing the missiles from existing torpedo tubes. The Self-Defense Forces already possess anti-ship missiles that can be launched from torpedo tubes, although they have a shorter range than standoff missiles.

China possesses multiple ballistic missiles capable of reaching Japan. In recent years Beijing has stepped up its military provocations as its naval force, which includes aircraft carriers, has become increasingly active in waters around Japan and in the East China and South China Seas. North Korea also is pushing ahead with missile and nuclear development programs.

Maintaining counterattack capability from submarines that could be anywhere underwater could make Japan more difficult to attack, even if a nation invading Japan launches a preemptive strike that inflicts massive damage on the SDF’s aircraft and surface ships.

The SDF has 21 submarines, which boast world-class technologies such as superb cruising performance and the ability to navigate quietly underwater to escape detection by enemy forces.

The government wants to use the capabilities of these submarines to prevent a ballistic missile attack or an invasion of Japan’s islands by a naval fleet.