Japan plans to improve hypersonic missile defense

The Defense Department’s budget requests for fiscal year 2023 will include funds to boost Japan’s ability to detect and intercept hypersonic missiles, which are more elusive than conventional missiles, government sources said.

The project will be one of more than 100 projects the ministry is expected to pursue without specifying costs.

Earlier this year, North Korea reportedly carried out tests that included hypersonic missiles, prompting a sense of urgency in Japan to bolster defenses against such weapons.

Compared to conventional missiles, hypersonic missiles are more dangerous because they can travel at more than five times the speed of sound, or Mach 5, or around 6,000 km/h.

They can also fly at low altitudes, making them less vulnerable to detection by radar and other surveillance systems. They can also move in irregular trajectories, such as up and down, as opposed to the predictable travel trajectories of ballistic missiles.

North Korea tested what it claimed were medium-range hypersonic missiles on January 5 and 11. The projectiles apparently landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

The launches raised concerns among Japanese officials due to difficulties in intercepting hypersonic missiles aimed at Japan.

If missiles are fired by a neighboring country towards Japan, the Self-Defense Forces would track them through radar systems placed throughout the country as well as early warning aircraft equipped with sophisticated radars until they are approaching Japanese territories.

If the SDF determines that the projectiles would land on Japanese territory, interceptor missiles carried by ships equipped with the Aegis system would be deployed to shoot them down outside the Earth’s atmosphere.

If the interception fails at this point, ground missiles would be launched to intercept the threat near the surface of Japan’s soil.

To strengthen the defense against hypersonic missiles, the ministry plans to improve the performance of the site’s radar systems and introduce more early warning aircraft.

The ministry is also trying to improve the capability of the missile intercept command system known as Japan Aerospace Defense Ground Environment to effectively operate the country’s two-stage missile defense, as well as acquiring additional missiles, according to the sources.

Hypersonic missiles are of two types: engine-powered hypersonic cruise missiles (HCMs); and Hypersonic Glide Vehicles (HGVs), which glide towards their targets after being launched from rocket boosters.

Russia and China are ahead of other countries in heavy-duty technology, defense experts say.

Japan plans to introduce a missile defense system capable of dealing with heavyweights on future Aegis ships, the sources said.

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