Japan wants to strap missiles to its fleet of C-2 cargo planes

Japan is considering converting its Kawasaki C-2 cargo planes into flying missile platforms to provide low-cost and effective long-range defensive capabilities.
Christopher McFadden
A Japanese Kawasaki C-2 cargo plane in flight.

Hunini/Wikimedia Commons 

The Japan Times reports that Japanese military officials have voiced their intention to arm the nation's Kawasaki C-2 cargo planes with advanced cruise missiles. In a move analysts believe may start a trend, air-launched standoff missiles are being considered to expand their long-range strike options. This strategy, likely similar to the USA's "Rapid Dragon" missile system, could be a rapid and cost-effective way of boosting the Japanese Air Force's capabilities without investing in new or more aircraft, like bombers.

Cargo plane bomber

The C-2 aircraft can transport 110 personnel and 20 tons of cargo and travel up to 4,722 miles (7,600 km). It carries more missiles than most fighters and has a longer flight time. There are currently 15 C-2s operational in Japan.

Unnamed sources say Japan's Ministry of Defense may equip C-2s with long-range missiles for counterstrike attacks on enemy bases. The Japan Times also reports that Japanese C-2s might be able to launch missiles in the future using a drop-and-power-up process, with no significant aircraft modifications needed. The type of missiles was not disclosed, but some prime suspects exist.

Japan plans to acquire off-the-shelf missiles for their C-2 aircraft, with the U.S.-made  Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) family of cruise missiles being a strong contender. These missiles can strike a target around 559 miles (900 km) away. JASSM is already being used to arm Japan's F-15 "Eagle" fighters, receiving a new standoff precision strike capability as part of their modernization.

Another option is Japan's homegrown Type 12 anti-ship missiles, currently under development can reportedly achieve ranges of 621 miles (1,000 km). This missile was initially used on a truck, but a longer-range, more advanced air-launched variant with stealth features is currently being developed. However, the air-launched missile won't be available until fiscal 2028, which may make the JASSM a more practical option for the near future.

This suggests Japan may consider the U.S.-developed "Rapid Dragon" air-launched palletized munitions or a similar concept. "Rapid Dragon" involves mounting multiple munitions inside modular frames, which are then loaded onto a cargo aircraft with a large rear ramp in a palletized manner, as seen on the C-2.

To defend Japan

It also features a computerized targeting system that gathers data from external sources and feeds it into the missiles. It is also designed to be scalable and compatible with various platforms. The U.S. Air Force has tested it multiple times using C-17 "Globemaster III" and specialized C-130 "Hercules" variants.

A budget of 3.5 billion yen ($25 million) has been allocated for capability development this fiscal year, with full-scale production anticipated after technical research concludes in 2024. A "Rapid Dragon" solution could increase Japan's long-range strike options for high-end conflicts against China, Russia, or North Korea.

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