State Dept. Signs off on $2.3B Japanese ‘Counterstrike’ Tomahawk Missile Buy

November 20, 2023 4:06 PM

Japan is one step closer to acquiring 400 Tomahawk Land Attack Missiles and support systems as part of a $2.35 billion foreign military sales case, the State Department announced on Friday. Meanwhile, Australia has accused China of unsafe and unprofessional conduct when a used an active sonar system in the East China Sea while Royal Australian Navy (RAN) divers were in the water nearby.

“Japan has requested to buy up to 200 Tomahawk Block IV All Up Rounds (AURs) (RGM-109E); up to 200 Tomahawk Block V AURs (RGM-109E); and 14 Tactical Tomahawk Weapon Control Systems,” reads the State Department Friday release.
“The proposed sale will improve Japan’s capability to meet current and future threats by providing a long-range, conventional surface-to-surface missile with significant standoff range that can neutralize growing threats. Japan will have no difficulty absorbing these articles into its armed forces.”

Japan originally planned to buy 400 Block V Tomahawks in its FY2026 – FY2027 period but last month Japan Defense Minister Minoru Kihara, following a meeting at the Pentagon, announced that Japan had brought forward the acquisition with a planned buy of Block IV Tomahawks in FY2025 and Block V in FY2026 and FY2027.

In a press conference on Monday, Kihara said that if there are no objections from the U.S. Congress, Japan and the U.S. will move forward with contract discussions. Japan will also coordinate with the U.S on the delivery schedule for each fiscal year, “but I would like to refrain from giving details, as they may reveal Japan’s defense capabilities,” said Kihara.

Japan plans to deploy Tomahawks from its Aegis destroyers though ground and submarine launch platforms are also under consideration. Japan currently has eight Aegis destroyers: four Kongō class, two Atago class and two Maya class. It plans to build two new Aegis destroyers to be commissioned in 2027 and 2028.

The Tomahawk procurement is part of Japan’s plan to obtain ‘counterstrike’ capabilities to act as a deterrent. Japan has been concerned with the threats posed by Russia, China and North Korea and it’s recent Defense White Paper has criticised the three countries with Russia condemned for its invasion of Ukraine, China for its territorial claims in both the East and South China Seas and its military activities around Taiwan and North Korea for its launches of ballistic missiles in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

During the press conference, Kihara was asked on the possibility of North Korea making a third attempt to launch a satellite this month following the failures of two earlier launches and the status of the order given to Japan’s military on May 29 to destroy any North Korean missile that would fly over Japan’s territory, Kihara replied that he was aware about Republic of Korea (ROK) Defense Minister Shin Wonsik’s media statement on Sunday but due to the nature of the matter it was difficult to provide an exact answer on when would a launch be carried out. He added though that the Ministry of Defense recognized that there was a possibility that North Korea would conduct a launch and thus the destruction order remains in place. On Sunday, ROK Defense Minister Shin told the Korean Broadcasting System that a launch by North Korea was expected by the end of the month.

Royal Australian Navy frigate HMAS Toowoomba (FFH-156) arrives at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in preparation for Rim of the Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise in 2018. US Navy Photo

On Saturday, Australian Deputy Prime Minister and Defense Minister Richard Marles issued a release accusing People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) destroyer CNS Ningbo (139) of unsafe and unprofessional actions on Nov. 14 in the vicinity of RAN frigate HMAS Toowoomba (FFH156) while it was in international waters inside of Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone enroute to commence a scheduled port visit.

The release stated that Toowoomba had been in the region in support of United Nations sanctions enforcement and it had stopped sending down divers to clear fishing nets that had become entangled around its propellers. At all times, HMAS Toowoomba communicated its intention to conduct diving operations on normal maritime channels and used internationally recognized signals.

While diving operations were underway, Ningbo, which was operating in the vicinity, closed towards Toowoomba and the RAN frigate again advised the PLAN destroyer that diving operations were underway and requested that the ship keep clear. Despite acknowledging Toowoomba’s communications, the PLAN destroyer approached closer and soon after, it was detected operating its hull-mounted sonar “ in a manner that posed a risk to the safety of the Australian divers who were forced to exit the water,” read the release which added, “This is unsafe and unprofessional conduct”.

The release said that medical assessments conducted after the divers exited the water identified they had sustained minor injuries likely due to being subjected to the sonar pulses from the Chinese destroyer, “Australia expects all countries, including China, to operate their militaries in a professional and safe manner”.

Toowoomba was on both a regional presence deployment and at that time conducting Operation Argos, the Australian Defence Force’s contribution to the monitoring and surveillance of U.N. sanctions violations by North Korea. A Japan Ministry of Defense release stated that the RAN frigate had been conducting the mission from late October to mid-November.

“This was dangerous, it was unsafe and unprofessional from the Chinese forces”. He added that his government had put its strong objections to the incident very clearly and very directly, through all of the appropriate channels in all of the forums available,” Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said in a Monday interview with Sky News.
“We’ve made it clear that we disagree with what occurred, that we have the strongest possible objection, and that this sort of event should not occur.”

As of Monday, China’s Ministry of National Defense had not yet issued any statement on the incident.


Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir

Dzirhan Mahadzir is a freelance defense journalist and analyst based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia. Among the publications he has written for and currently writes for since 1998 includes Defence Review Asia, Jane’s Defence Weekly, Navy International, International Defence Review, Asian Defence Journal, Defence Helicopter, Asian Military Review and the Asia-Pacific Defence Reporter.

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