TOKYO • Japan is preparing to acquire precision air-launched missiles that for the first time would give it the capability to strike North Korean missile sites, two sources with direct knowledge of the matter said.
Tokyo plans to put money aside in its next defence budget starting April to study whether its F-15 fighters could launch longer-range missiles, including Lockheed Martin's extended-range Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, which can hit targets 1,000km away, said one of the sources.
"There is a global trend for using longer-range missiles and it is only natural that Japan would want to consider them," he said. The sources asked to remain anonymous.
Japan is also interested in buying the 500km-range Joint Strike Missile designed by Norway's Kongsberg Defence and Aerospace to be carried by the F-35 stealth fighter, Fuji Television reported earlier.
Neither of those two items is included in a 5.26 trillion yen (S$63 billion) budget request already submitted by Japan's Ministry of Defence. However, additional funds would be made available to evaluate the purchase of these missiles, the sources said.
The change suggests that the growing threat posed by North Korean ballistic missiles has given proponents of a strike capability the upper hand in military planning.
Any decision to buy longer-range weapons capable of striking North Korea or even the Chinese mainland would therefore be controversial, but proponents argue that the strike weapons can play a defensive role.
Restrictions on strike weapons imposed by its war-renouncing Constitution mean Japan's missile force is composed of anti-aircraft and anti-ship munitions with ranges of less than 300km.
Any decision to buy longer-range weapons capable of striking North Korea or even the Chinese mainland would therefore be controversial, but proponents argue the strike weapons can play a defensive role.
"We are not looking at funding for this," Japanese Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said yesterday at a regular press briefing. "We rely on the United States to strike enemy bases and are not looking at making any changes to how we share our roles," he added.
Meanwhile, senior United Nations official Jeffrey Feltman arrived in Pyongyang yesterday for a rare visit aimed at defusing soaring tensions over North Korea's nuclear weapons programme.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE