TOKYO (THE JAPAN NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Japanese government plans to equip the Air Self-Defence Force's (ASDF) F-2 fighters with a new air-to-ship missile from next fiscal year, The Yomiuri Shimbun has learnt.
It will allocate several hundred millions of yen in a budgetary request for fiscal 2018 to mass produce the missile, which is currently under development, according to sources.
The new missile will be the first supersonic air-to-ship type to be made in the country. It is characterised as being difficult to intercept, the sources said.
The introduction of the new missile is aimed at keeping the Chinese Navy - which has been taking high-handed action in the East China Sea and other places - in check.
The domestically built type 80 and type 93 air-to-ship missiles can both reach near-supersonic speeds. The new air-to-ship missile will travel significantly faster, with a speed of around Mach 3 - about three times faster than the type 93 and on a par with the most advanced missiles of the same variety overseas.
The time required to hit a target would be significantly reduced with the new air-to-ship missile, which can fly at a low altitude close to the water surface to easily evade radar detection.
These attributes make it difficult for enemy ships to intercept the missile. Additionally, the missile will have a longer range than the type 93, which travels less than 200km.
The Defence Ministry will test-fire the new air-to-ship missile against a retired destroyer. If it proves to have high performance, the ministry will gradually equip F-2 fighters deployed to units in western Japan with the missile.
The F-2 fighter, developed jointly by Japan and the United States, is known for its high capability to attack ships. The fighter was deployed from the year 2000, and the ASDF has now introduced about 90 units.
The aircraft is scheduled to be used as the ASDF's main fighter aircraft until around the 2030s. If the aircraft is equipped with the new missile, its attack capability is expected to be boosted.
The ministry is hastening efforts to improve the performance of its defence equipment to counter China, which is building up its maritime capacity.
In September 2012, China commissioned its first aircraft carrier, Liaoning, by rebuilding a vessel bought from Ukraine. In April this year, the country's first domestically built aircraft carrier was released into open waters.
China is believed to be developing its equipment to protect its aircraft carriers from antiship missiles and other attacks.
The Japanese government is also considering equipping the F-35 - the world's most advanced stealth fighter, scheduled to be deployed to the ASDF from the end of this fiscal year - with the highly advanced Joint Strike Missile, an air-to-surface and air-to-ship missile currently being developed mainly by Norway.