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Last Updated: November, 2014

Japan does not have a ballistic missile development program, but its space program includes a number of technologies that could potentially be adapted to create long-range missiles.

The solid-fueled M-5 rocket system, first launched in 1995, includes technologies that could be adapted to develop intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capabilities roughly similar to those of the U.S. MX Peacekeeper missile. [1] Japan's two-stage H-2 rocket is capable of placing a two-ton payload into orbit, but the H-2 is not optimal for ballistic missile applications due to its reliance on cryogenic liquid hydrogen and oxygen fuel. [2] Japan lacks sophisticated command-and-control systems, as well as some guidance and warhead technology necessary to developing operational missiles. [3] Tokyo is a member of the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), and was involved in drafting the Hague Code of Conduct Against Ballistic Missile Proliferation (HCOC). [4]

Missile Defense

Japan partners with the United States to research, develop, and deploy ballistic missile defense systems (BMD), and is one of the most active players in the field of BMD. Tokyo has deployed a multi-layered missile defense system consisting of sea-based midcourse missile defense Aegis BMD system), and ground-based terminal phase missile defense (Patriot Advanced Capabilities-3).

After the 1998 Taepodong-1 missile test by North Korea, Japan decided to undertake research and development of missile defense systems in cooperation with the United States. In December 2003, the Japanese government decided to acquire ballistic missile defense capabilities. [5] When the December 2004 National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) were issued stipulating the joint development of missile defense systems with the United States, the Japanese government decided to make the two countries' missile defense programs exceptions to the country's decades old self-imposed Three Principles on Arms Export that prohibit weapons sales outside of Japan. [6] Subsequently, in December 2005, the Japanese cabinet decided that Tokyo would jointly develop more advanced next-generation missile interceptors with the United States. [7] The Japanese government reiterated that the Three Principles would not be applied to the joint development of missile defense systems under strict conditions. [8]

Increased tensions with North Korea have precipitated much of Japan's BMD activity. The United States deployed a ground-based PAC-3 unit at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa in October 2006, following North Korea's first nuclear test and its July 2006 missile launches. [9] In March 2009, immediately prior to North Korea's announced satellite launch date, Japan deployed missile defense systems on land and sea. While North Korea's "communications satellite" launch on 5 April 2009 did not necessitate a defensive response, as it flew over northeast Japan and fell into the Pacific Ocean, the launch strengthened the hand of missile defense advocates in Japan.

In April 2012, responding to North Korea's impending Unha 3 rocket launch, the Japanese Defense Ministry deployed its ground-based PAC-3 interceptors in seven locations: three in the metropolitan area, and four in Okinawa. In addition, three Aegis-equipped destroyers with Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors were deployed: two in the East China Sea and one in the Sea of Japan. [10] While the rocket launch resulted in a failure, the Japanese Defense Ministry was not able to detect the launch in a timely manner. This prompted Japan to decide to station the Aegis destroyers closer to the Yellow Sea, which is closer to North Korea, in order to enhance Tokyo's capability to detect any actions by Pyongyang. [11]

Furthermore, when North Korea announced it would launch a satellite sometime between 10-22 December 2012, the Japanese government deployed PAC-3 units in and around the Tokyo area and in Okinawa, and deployed three Aegis class destroyers equipped with SM-3 interceptors in the East China Sea and the Sea of Japan. Then Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto ordered the Self Defense Forces to shoot down North Korea's missile if it threatens Japanese territory. [12] Since the missile passed over Japan's southern island chain of Okinawa, Japan did not need to attempt to shoot down the missile. [13] In response to North Korea's missile test, the Japanese government decided to spend an additional $681 million on the acquisition and modernization of its missile defense technology. [14]

Until it was toppled by the center-left Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) in the August 2009 general election, the Japanese government under the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) continued to develop more robust missile defense systems in cooperation with the United States. Many speculated that governmental support for missile defense might diminish under the DPJ. In November 2009, then DPJ Foreign Minister Katsuya Okada insisted that the government should be able to thoroughly explain to the public the value of the expensive missile defense system that Japan developed with the United States. When the DPJ cabinet approved defense spending guidelines for FY2010, it suspended new funds for any further PAC-3 deployment until at least April 2011. [15]

However, events in 2010, including increasingly belligerent North Korean behavior, concerns over China's military modernization, and heightened tensions with China, caused the Japanese government to decide to continue to develop and improve missile defense in cooperation with the United States. As a result, the NDPG issued in December 2010 under the DPJ government, highlighted the importance of strengthening the missile defense system. For example, the Ministry of Defense decided to relocate missile defense command from a Self-Defense Force facility to a U.S. airbase in 2011 to improve the speed of detection and response to incoming missiles identified by U.S. early –warning satellites. [16]

In preparation for the NDPG, a focus of the debate was whether or not to further modify the Three Principles on Arms Export. Given the heated debates and pressure from the United States, the defense industry in Japan, and then Defense Minister Kitazawa to ease the guidelines, it was speculated that the new Defense Guidelines would mention easing the arms export bans. [17] However, the guidelines did not make any direct reference to reviewing the Three Principles, mainly due to adamant opposition from the Social Democratic Party, whose support was necessary for the DPJ to pass the FY2011 budget. [18] Instead, the NDPG left the door open to a possible lifting of the weapons export ban, calling for considering measures to deal with "major changes" in the global environment involving weapons. [19] As a result of further deliberations on the Three Principles under the Noda Administration that came to office in September 2011, the Cabinet announced it would further ease the Three Principles on Arms Export on 27 December 2011, with an aim to enhance U.S.-Japan cooperation on missile defense systems. [20]

Following its landslide victories over the DPJ in the December 2012 Lower House election and the July 2013 Upper House election, the ruling LDP decided to review the NDPG adopted by the DPJ government and issued the new NDPG in December 2013. The current document mentions the need to maintain and enhance ballistic missile defense systems as part of its plan to address the "threat of nuclear weapons." [21]

One of the contentious issues related to further strengthened missile defense systems has been whether or not Japan should exercise collective self-defense. The Japanese government's long-standing interpretation of Article 9 of the constitution prohibited Japan's participation in collective self-defense, and also barred the country from using its missile defense capabilities to defend a third country, including the United States. However, Prime Minister Abe strongly supports changing this interpretation. On 1 July 2014, after intensive debates among the ruling coalition party, the Japanese cabinet approved a revised interpretation of the constitution allowing the country to exercise the right of collective self-defense. With this shift, Japan could potentially launch its own missile interceptors against a North Korean missile targeting U.S. territories. [22]

Land-Based Missile Defense

Under the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) government, PAC-3 missiles were scheduled to be deployed with 16 fire units in three air defense missile groups around Japan's major cities by March 2011. All of these planned deployments were completed in April 2010, almost one year prior to their scheduled completion date. [23] In addition to the three air defense missile groups already deployed in Japan, the 2010 NDPG called for more deployment of PAC-3 interceptor missiles across Japan to counter the threat of North Korea's ballistic missiles. By fiscal year 2014, the government had planned to deploy PAC-3 permanently in Okinawa. [24] However, given North Korea's recent repeated threats, in April 2013 the Ministry of Defense decided to relocate PAC-3 missile defense units from Hamamatsu Air Base in Shizuoka Prefecture to Okinawa and to permanently base them there, accelerating the plan. [25] In addition, the Defense Ministry decided to permanently deploy the PAC-3 on the grounds of the Defense Ministry in Tokyo's Ichigaya district. [26]

Tokyo has also enhanced its cooperation with the United States in PAC-3 flight testing. Japan's Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) conducted two successful tests of the PAC-3 interceptor at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico, one on 17 September 2008 and another on 17 September 2009. The second test involved a Japanese-produced interceptor missile. [27]

Sea-Based Missile Defense

The Aegis BMD features the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), a three-stage missile with a range of 1000km, designed to intercept a short to intermediate-range ballistic missile in space. Japan, in cooperation with the United States Missile Defense Agency, has conducted four Aegis System flight tests. The results have varied. Japan became the first country other than the United States to succeed in intercepting a mock missile with the Aegis Ballistic Missile defense system in December 2007. [28] The SM-3 Block IA missile, launched from the Japanese Aegis ship Kongo, detected, tracked and destroyed a mock missile resembling North Korea's Nodong outside the atmosphere at an altitude of approximately 100 miles. Subsequently, Tokyo therefore deployed the Kongo at the MSDF's Sasebo base in Nagasaki prefecture. The second test in November 2008 with the Aegis-equipped Chokai failed to intercept a mock ballistic missile, which disappointed both U.S. and Japanese missile defense proponents. However, the Japanese destroyer Myoko successfully intercepted a third test's target, launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the island of Kauai on 28 October 2009. [29] Additionally, at the most recent test that was conducted on 28 October 2010, the Kirishima, Japan's fourth destroyer equipped with the Aegis BMD system successfully intercepted a mock ballistic missile. With this successful test, the Ministry of Defense completed the deployment of all four Aegis-equipped destroyers (Kongo, Chokai, Myoko, and Kirishima) armed with SM-3s by April 2011, as originally scheduled. [30] The 2010 NDPG also called for enhancing the performance of the Aegis system, and will increase the number of Aegis-equipped destroyers with interceptor missile equipment from the current four to six. [31] In December 2012, the U.S. Department of Defense notified Congress about its plan to sell Aegis weapon systems to Japan to help upgrade the two Japanese Aegis equipped destroyers. This will enable the installation of the SM-3 on the two destroyers, Atago and Ashigara, so that all of Japan's six Aegis destroyers will have SM-3 interceptors. [32]

In addition, the United States and Japan have been jointly developing the next generation SM-3 Block II A missile with plans to deploy it in 2018. [33] Washington aims to deploy the SM-3 Block II A in the United States, Europe and elsewhere in order to field a comprehensive missile defense system by around 2020. In order to do so, Japan had to agree to export the jointly developed system to third countries, which was prohibited under Japan's Three Principles on Arms Exports. However, with repeated requests from Washington, Japan decided to ease the Three Principles in order to allow such transfers provided that the transfers would contribute to Japan's national security and global peace and stability. In the joint statement of the June 2011 U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee, a meeting between U.S. Secretaries of States and Defense, and Japan's Foreign and Defense Ministers, the two countries affirmed that Japan will allow the United States to transfer a jointly developed SM-3 Block II A interceptor to third countries. [34] The decision to ease the Three Principles was formalized when the Japanese government made an official announcement on 27 December 2011. The new policy enabled Japan and the United States to more comprehensively cooperate in the development of the next-generation SM-3 interceptor. (Block II A) [35] [36]

Furthermore, in an effort to enhance Japan's proactive capabilities for international cooperation, the Abe administration decided to replace the well-established Three Principles on Arms Export with the "Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology". The government adopted the new Guidelines as a Cabinet decision on 1 April 2014. The new principles make up part of Prime Minister Abe's efforts for Japan to play a more active role in global security. [37]

On 5 April 2014, at a joint press conference with his Japanese counterpart Itsunori Onodera, U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel announced that the United States will send Japan two more Aegis-equipped ballistic missile defense ships by 2017 in response to threats from North Korea. [38] [39]

Basic Space Law

Japan has become more assertive in its space activities mainly because of North Korea's ballistic missile launches and the accelerating development of China's space program. On 20 June 2007, Japan's ruling coalition submitted the "Basic Space Bill" to the House of Representatives, subsequently passed as the Basic Space Law on 27 August 2008. The law lifted the previous ban on the Japanese government's use of space for defensive purposes. Tokyo's long-standing self-imposed restriction on the military use of space was impeding Japan from enhancing its missile defense capabilities. When Japan's Space Agency was established in 1969, the Diet unanimously adopted a resolution committing Japan to using space for peaceful purposes only, traditionally interpreted in Japan as referring to non-military activities. However, a modern reinterpretation of the peaceful purposes rule, which has been embraced in the new law, has been to restrict space activities to defensive military applications. Under the new Basic Space Law, the SDF can manufacture, possess and operate its own satellites to support its military operations, including ballistic missile defense. The SDF plans to procure reconnaissance satellites, early warning satellites, and tracking and communications satellites. Japan has been relying completely on the United States in this area of ballistic missile defense capabilities. It was the U.S. Defense Support Program satellites that detected the North Korean missile launches in July 2006. [40]

Japan's Basic Space Law therefore represents a major shift from the 1969 Diet resolution. While the law abides by the 1967 Outer Space Treaty, other international treaties, and the principles of Japan's exclusively defense-oriented Constitution, this shift has already generated controversies about the ramifications of shifting Japanese defense policies both outside and inside of Japan. Under the leadership of the LDP administration, the Strategic Headquarters for Space Development was established based on the Basic Space Law, and issued the first Basic Plan for Space Policy in June 2009 and the second in January 2013.

Before the DPJ ousted the LDP at the August 2009 general election, the LDP had been enthusiastic about developing Japan's early warning satellite technology. The 2009 Basic Plan included a research project to develop early warning satellite technology. While the Japanese government under both the DPJ and the LDP has continued to enhance missile defense systems with the United States, the plan to research and develop early warning satellite technology significantly waned. Meanwhile, Japan and the United States decided to install an X-band early warning radar system in Kyoto Prefecture, in the western part of Japan, in response to increasing threats from North Korea. On 21 October 2014, the X-band radar system was delivered to the U.S. military's communication facility in Kyoto. The system is expected to be fully operational by the end of the year. [41] This will be the second U.S.-developed X-band missile defense radar system in Japan, following one at the ASDF Shariki base in Aomori Prefecture, in northeastern Japan. [42]

[1] Japan Missile Program, Globalsecurity.org.
[2] Japan Missile Program, Globalsecurity.org.
[3] Japan Missile Program, Globalsecurity.org.
[4] "Status of Japan's Participation in Treaties and Organizations," www.nonproliferation.org.
[5] "Statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary," Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, 19 December 2003, www.kantei.go.jp.
[6] "Statement by Chief Cabinet Secretary," Prime Minister of Japan and His Cabinet, 10 December 2004, www.kantei.go.jp.
[7] "Missile Shield Project to Proceed," The Japan Times, 25 December 2005.
[8] "Exchange of Notes Concerning the Transfer of Arms and Military Technologies to the United States of America," 23 June 2006, www.mofa.go.jp.
[9] Reiji Yoshida, "PAC-3 Missiles Debut at Iruma Air Base," The Japan Times, 31 March 2007.
[10] "Japan Orders to Intercept North Korea Missile if It Poses Threat," Reuters, 29 March 2012. www.reuters.com.
[11] "Japan to Position Aegis-Equipped Missile Destroyers Near North Korea: Report," Global Security Newswire, 5 June 2012. www.nti.org/gsn.
[12] "Okinawa on Full Missile Alert; SDF Prepares to Intercept Falling Debris with Aegis, PAC-3," The Daily Yomiuri, 8 December 2012, www.lexisnexis.com.
[13] "No Attempt to Shoot Down N.Korea Rocket: Japan Govt," Agence France-Presse, 12 December 2012, www.lexisnexis.com.
[14] Mari Yamaguchi, "Japan Cabinet OKs $147 Billion Extra Budget," The Associated Press, 15 January 2013, www.lexisnexis.com.
[15] "Japan to Halt New Missile Defence Spending: Media," Space War, 15 December 2009, www.spacewar.com.
[16] "Japan to Relocate Missile Defense Command to U.S. Base," NTI Global Security Newswire, 6 January 2011, www.globalsecuritynewswire.org.
[17] "Japan Could Allow Arms Export,"NTI Global Security Newswire, 15 October 2010, www.globalsecuritynewswire.org.
[18] "Japan: New Defence Policy on Arms Export Ban Worried Pacifists," BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, 17 December 2010, www.lexisnexis.com.
[19] "Japan: New Defence Policy on Arms Export Ban Worried Pacifists," BBC Monitoring Asia Pacific, 17 December 2010, www.lexisnexis.com.
[20] Masami Ito, "Government goes ahead with easing arms export ban," The Japan Times, 28 December 2011, www.japantimes.co.jp.
[21] "Document: Japan's 2014 National Defense Program GuidleinesGuidelines," USNI News, 17 December 2013, news.usni.org.
[22] "Japan Approves New Defense Policy That Permits Action With Allies," Global Security Newswire, 1 July 2014, ww.nti.org.
[23] Japanese Ministry of Defense, "Petoriotto PAC 3 no Haibi ni tsuite, [Deployment of PAC-3]," 26 April 2010, in Japanese, www.mod.go.jp.
[24] Japanese Ministry of Defense, "National Defense Program Guidelines for FY 2011 and Beyond (Provisional Translation)," 17 December 2010, www.mod.go.jp.
[25] "Japan to Locate Missile Defense System in Okinawa Permanently," Kyodo News Service, 12 April 2013, www.lexisnexis.com.
[26] "Japan to Deploy PAC-3 Interceptors at Defense Ministry Permanently," Japan Economic Newswire, 17 May 2013, www.lexisnexis.com.
[27] "Japan Succeeds in Testing Domestically Made PAC-3," Jiji Press Ticker Service, 17 September 2009, in LexisNexis, www.lexisnexis.com.
[28] Richard Scott, "Japan Joins U.S. to Make First Sea-Based BMD Interception," International Defence Review, 1 January 2008.
[29] "Japan Intercepts Ballistic Missile in Hawaii Test," Associated Press Online, 28 October 2009, in LexisNexis, www.lexisnexis.com.
[30] Japanese Ministry of Defense, "Defense of Japan 2010: Annual White Paper," www.mod.go.jp.
[31] Japanese Ministry of Defense, "Summary of National Defense Program Guidelines, FY2011," www.mod.go.jp.
[32] "All of Japan's Aegis Destroyers to Have Interceptor Missiles," Jiji Press Ticker Service, 13 December 2012, www.lexisnexis.com.
[33] "Japan Approves New Defense Policy That Permits Action With Allies," Global Security Newswire, 1 July 2014, ww.nti.org; Masami Ito, "Government goes ahead with easing arms export ban," The Japan Times, 28 December 2011, www.japantimes.co.jp.
[34] "Joint Statement of the Security Consultative Committee Toward a Deeper and Broader U.S.-Japan Alliance: Building on 50 Years of Partnership," Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 21 June 2011, www.mofa.go.jp.
[35] Kiyoshi Takenaka and Nobuhiro Kubo, "Japan relaxes arms export regime to fortify defense," Reuters, www.reuters.com.
[36] "Japan Approves New Defense Policy That Permits Action With Allies," Global Security Newswire, 1 July 2014, ww.nti.org.
[37] "The Three Principles on Transfer of Defense Equipment and Technology," Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs, 1 April 2014, www.mofa.go.jp.
[38] Kiyoshi Takenaka and Nobuhiro Kubo, "Japan relaxes arms export regime to fortify defense," Reuters, www.reuters.com.
[39] "U.S., Japan Taking Antimissile Steps in Face of North Korean Threats," Global Security Newswire, 7 April 2014, www.nti.org.
[40] Setsuko Aoki, "Japan Enters a New Space Age," Asia Times Online, www.atimes.com.
[41] "China criticizes U.S. missile defense radar in Japan," Reuters, 23 October 2014, www.reuters.com.
[42] "X-Band Missile Defense Radar to Be Installed in Kyoto," Jiji Press Ticker Service, 24 February 2013, www.lexisnexis.com.

Get the Facts on Japan
  • Possesses a reprocessing plant capable of separating eight tons of Pu per year
  • State party to the BWC, but experimented on human subjects with biological agents during WWII
  • Possesses technological capabilities which could be adapted for the production of long-range ballistic missiles

This material is produced independently for NTI by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey and does not necessarily reflect the opinions of and has not been independently verified by NTI or its directors, officers, employees, or agents. Copyright 2017.