Japan may be getting a new hypersonic missile interceptor

Premiers of Japan and the U.S. are to meet on Friday to discuss a possible collaboration to develop and build a hypersonic missile interceptor.
Christopher McFadden
The plan is to beef up Japan's defenses against hypersonic missile threats.


Japan and the US have scheduled talks to discuss the development of hypersonic missile interceptors, Reuters report.

Both nations will collaborate to develop the countermeasures to form a critical part of Japan's home defense against Russia, China, and North Korea. First reported in Japan's Yomiuri newspaper said on Sunday, talks will commence during incumbent President Joe Biden's meeting with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in the US on Friday, August 18.

Japanese hypersonic defense

As Reuters points out, Japan desperately needs this interceptor, as its current anti-missile systems are primarily geared towards intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) type threats. Hypersonic missiles can fly at greater speeds and low altitudes and change course midflight. ICMBs, on the other hand, are launched at high angles into space, and their payloads re-enter Earth's atmosphere before plunging toward their intended targets. This makes the carrier missile and reentry vehicles vulnerable to interception by specially designed missiles.

Because of their speed and agility, hypersonic missiles are harder to detect and track than ballistic missiles, which fly in a parabolic path passing through and out of the atmosphere. For this reason, some experts believe hypersonic missiles are difficult to intercept unless they are close to the point of impact, where they may be most vulnerable.

Japan defends itself against incoming missiles by launching SM-3 missiles at sea or using Patriot PAC-3 surface-to-air guided missiles to track and kill threats after reentry. However, as analysts point out, it is not believed to be fit for purpose to counter hypersonic threats. To this end, the two countries aim to develop a new interceptor capable of changing trajectory to respond to high-speed projectiles in low orbit. If successful, it could intercept hypersonic projectiles before impact.

And time is of the essence, as China, Russia, and North Korea have all reportedly tested hypersonic weapons. This has pressured Japan and the US to improve their deterrence and response capabilities. Japan and the US will collaborate to improve the detection and tracking of low-altitude missiles by creating a "satellite constellation" that processes data from multiple satellites for high accuracy and early detection.

Second U.S.-Japan collaboration

The new talks will build on earlier meetings in January this year when the US and Japan agreed to consider developing an interceptor during a meeting between Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi, and Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada.

If the new round of talks succeeds, it will mark the second instance of a collaboration agreement in missile defense technology between the US and Japan. The latter has already deployed a longer-range missile developed by Washington and Tokyo on warships to guard against North Korean missile strikes targeting warheads in space between Japan and the Korean peninsula.

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