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Opinion: Tomahawk Missile for Japan

1024px-US_Navy_030327-N-9964S-519_The_guided_missile_destroyer_USS_Winston_S._Churchill_(DDG_81)_launches_a_Tomahawk_Land_Attack_Missile_(TLAM)_toward_IraqJapan increasingly finds itself amid an unsettling security environment. The growing capabilities of the Chinese and Russian militaries coincide with intensified air and naval activity against the backdrop of unresolved territorial disputes. On the Korean Peninsula, the erratic regime of Kim Jong-un alarms its neighbors with provocative rhetoric and missile tests. And in Bangladesh and Indonesia, violent Islamic extremism extends its reach with ISIS-supported attacks.

Recognizing problems with the status quo, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has undertaken a combination of policy and budget initiatives to better provide for Japan’s defense, strengthen the Japan–U.S. bilateral security relationship, and facilitate a more active role in regional security.

The new defense guidelines introduce a modified concept of collective self-defense and provide a basic set of conditions by which Japan’s Self-Defense Force (SDF) can contribute to future allied military operations. A key element of the updated policy is the elimination of previously imposed geographic constraints on the activities of the SDF. With increased funding, Japan is also expanding its operational capability beyond the current defensive-centric force. This includes forming a marine amphibious assault force and buying such advanced aircraft as the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the MV-22 Osprey. But Japan still lacks a key element of military power relevant for emerging challenges in the region—a flexible, long range strike weapon.

The Tomahawk missile has long been a centerpiece of the U.S. military’s long-range precision strike portfolio. A sea-based weapon with a 1,000-mile range and a 1,000-pound warhead, it brings a proven proficiency for attacking well-defended, high-value land targets. New upgrades, including the ability to hit a ship, ensure the missile’s operational relevance beyond the next decade.

The precedent for providing Tomahawk to allies was established nearly 20 years ago when the United Kingdom acquired 65 missiles. It is time to expand the “user club” to include Japan.

Broader Options to Defend Japan


North Korean missile system in Pyongyang

Japan is increasingly vulnerable to North Korea’s ambitious ballistic-missile program. Aided by Iranian technology, North Korea’s missiles have longer ranges, greater mobility and are more reliable. Reports of recent technological advancements—such as a solid-fuel rocket engine that cuts launch preparation time—further amplify the severity of the challenge.
Japan lacks a balanced range of options to respond to North Korea’s threats and provocations. While their shore-based Patriot missile batteries and AEGIS-equipped destroyers can be an effective missile shield, they do little to prevent further escalatory actions. Tomahawk transcends the current defensive systems and provides a responsive deterrent option. Long-range and lethal, Tomahawk can threaten targets related to weapons production and missile development. And since it is sea-based and mobile, it is more difficult for the North Korean military to plan for and counter an attack. Loaded on a Kongo-class destroyer, Tomahawk would provide a visible deterrent with the staying power of a surface combatant, ready to engage on short notice.

China’s military expansion in the region is another challenge for Japan’s Self-Defense Forces, including its numerical advantages of five times as many surface combatants and four times as many submarines as Japan. Coinciding with this arms buildup is the ongoing territorial encroachment and obvious militarization of island reefs across the South China Sea. Those actions can support the deployment of tactical fighter aircraft, naval warships and cruise missile batteries with the clear intent of projecting China’s influence and power while denying other countries the same.
Tomahawk offers Japan an apt counterbalance to this buildup of offensive power—addressing the force imbalance and closing the gap in effective striking power. Its long range makes it a “force multiplier,” rendering a naval force employing Tomahawk significantly more effective than one without it. A Tomahawk-equipped destroyer can cover a wide area of operations and simultaneously hold numerous land and sea based targets at risk. Furthermore, Tomahawk can complement the effectiveness of other Maritime Self-Defense Forces by extending the reach and enhancing the combat power of the new amphibious assault force.

Enabling An Effective Security Partner


U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) ships underway in formation as part of a photo exercise on the final day of Keen Sword 2011. US Navy Photo

U.S. Navy and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) ships underway in formation as part of a photo exercise on the final day of Keen Sword 2011. US Navy Photo

Key to Japan’s defense is the bilateral security relationship with the United States, and perhaps the primary objective of the updated defense guidance. Likewise, Japan is central for protecting American security interests in the region and—some would argue—our most valuable ally. Clearly the United States and Japan have the same fundamental concerns in regional security.
And the Unites States needs Japan’s assistance ever more to overcome the anti-access/area-denial challenges posed by China and Russia. Admiral Harry Harris (commander, Pacific Command) recently noted in a statement to Congress the growing gap between Chinese and U. S. forces in anti-ship weapons, and the need to address this challenge by equipping the Fleet with more longer-range and integrated offensive weapons.
Tomahawk brings many of the capabilities that Admiral Harris is seeking, especially in terms of range, lethality, connectivity and operational flexibility. The weapon is well complemented by U.S. surveillance and targeting systems, and fully compatible with American naval doctrine and employment concepts. As such, Tomahawk would bring Japan a highly responsive and “networked” strike weapon that is a natural fit operating with a U.S. carrier strike or surface action group.
The hazards we face in the Pacific are compounded by both the “tyranny of distance” and the constraints imposed by competing global commitments. The Department of Defense may be hard-pressed to meet the necessary force structure to sustain the administration’s “Asia-Pacific Rebalance.” Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Forces, inherently forward-deployed in the Western Pacific, offer a responsiveness that can ease the burden on the American military. Our air and naval forces cannot be everywhere at once. But the Maritime Self-Defense Forces, equipped with such proven and integrated capabilities as Tomahawk, can help meet the challenge.


An Asymmetric Advantage

Tomahawk cruise missile launched from a MK 41 VLS tube on the USS Farragut (DDG-99) US Navy Photo

Tomahawk cruise missile launched from a MK 41 VLS tube on the USS Farragut (DDG-99) US Navy Photo

Our alliances across the globe, especially those in the Pacific, give the United States a significant “asymmetric” advantage. They offer substantial military capabilities and regional influence to offset the growing strengths of potential adversaries. Indeed, the integral bond with our most capable “high-end” partners, such as Japan and Australia, stands in stark contrast to Russia and China, who have no comparable allies in the region.

We should therefore seek the means to broaden and further solidify our security relationship with Japan. Equipping Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force with the Tomahawk weapon system is one way to do this. Providing Tomahawk not only recognizes Japan’s legitimate security needs, but also signifies a level of trust befitting a long-standing ally and a mature, stable democracy.

  • Why not skip Tomahawk and wait for its replacement

    • NavySubNuke

      Probably because waiting another 30 years for something to make its way through the DoD procurement bureaucracy would make the entire discussion moot.

      • Curtis Conway

        I wonder what the motivation for asking that question is?

        • Danny Lewis

          Maybe it’s because neither China, Russia and North Korea can stop a Tomahawk Cruise Missle. It would give them something to think about, well at least China and Russia. North Korea is an entirely different matter. A countries willingness to use a nuclear weapon is based on how stable its leadership is. Anyone want to bet on North Koreas dictators mental stability?

          • Curtis Conway

            If you think the Chinese do not have the senors and weapon systems to stop a Tomahawk cruise missile ? . . one mistake in combat is to underestimate one’s enemies.

          • Danny Lewis

            No I don’t think that they do. The vast majority of there armaments are either copycats or stolen. With that knowledge the US knows what they have and don’t have. So any Tomahawk attack would be very effective. Now, if you think the Chinese can stop or prevent an attack then why don’t you share your information with the US Military, I’m sure they will be amused by your professional assessment.

          • Curtis Conway

            If such a capability exist it will certainly be classified above my pay-grade (CIVLANT). Never underestimate any potential adversary.

          • NoName

            Tomahawk was/is not seen as some kind of unstopable wunderwaffe weapon by Pentagon nor by anyone with a actual clue for that matter. It have served the US military well for almost a half of a century and it still does, but it is undoubtly somewhat obselete, slow moving, none agile, none stealthy and thus in trouble once spotted.

            Even back in its glory days SAM relics such a Hawk had a decent kill ratio against them during tests. Fighter planes hunted them down. Primitive CIWS took such a heavy tool on them when they was tested as anti ship missiles that the idea was aborted. If the cold war had  turned hot it was estimated that a fair share of the missiles fired would be stopped by assorted systems in the enemy air defence grid. But some would have made it through.

            These days its penetration rate when facing a decent airdefence is questinable at best, let alone the survival  rate against the more highend of the the Chinese and Russian stuff with AWACS support. Tomahawk is still maintained and produced. Not because its a particular effective  weapon against a near peer enemy. Its because it is indeed is a quite handy tool for blowing up stuff and make a statement in the less developed and defended parts of the world.

  • NavySubNuke

    Better yet let the Japanese help with the TLAM block V and add some innovative thought to the project (and even better some cash). The collaboration on the newest versions of the SM-3 seem to be paying off – I wonder what benefits they could add to a future TLAM increment while we wait for whatever follows to somehow make its way through the bureaucracy.
    Survivability improvements would certainly be a great place to start.

    • Curtis Conway

      TLAM & Surface (ASuW) Tomahawk.

  • Ed L

    the tomahawk is so old. I think the Japanese would be better off buying Taiwan Hsiung Feng III (HF-3) It would be a better use of there money

  • John B. Morgen

    It is longed overdue, we should provide Tomahawk missiles to the Japanese, but also provide them for the South Koreans. However, we should also continue to make improvements, so our Tomahawks could out preformed our enemies’ counter-measures in the distant future.