The Japanese government was reportedly considering arming its self-defence forces with more than 1,000 missiles ranging between 1,000 and 1,500 km for surface warfare in August 2022, as Japan was getting ready to announce a new defence strategy to counter the provocations of North Korea and China. The goal was to have a “counter-attack” capability and thereby strengthen the archipelago’s means of deterrence.
As a result, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries [MHI] has just been notified of contracts with a total estimated value of $3 billion. As anticipated, it will be necessary to significantly enhance the Type 12 missile range to enable employment by ships and F-15J combat aircraft. The missile was designed for surface-to-ship warfare.
The Japanese Ministry of Defense, however, plans to go even further. MHI will have to create a new cruise missile installed on Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force submarines, most likely those of the Taigei class, of which the first two units [JS Taigei and JS Hakugei] have just entered service.
The “production” of a hypersonic weapon, the first copies of which are expected to be delivered in 2026–2027, is covered by a final contract. The Japanese Ministry of Defense provides little information in its news release other than that it will be a “glider” for “the defence of isolated islands.”
After the United States, Russia, India, China, and France acknowledged their work on hypersonic weapons projects in 2019, Japan followed suit. In 2019, Japan joined the United States, Russia, China, and France in acknowledging their work on hypersonic weapons initiatives. Developing a super ramjet or Scramjet-type engine for a long-range hypersonic cruise missile referred to as the HCM [for Hypersonic Cruise Missile] was granted approximately $60 million in funding. The second effort, which had already begun a year earlier, attempted to create a solid-fuel rocket-powered hypersonic glider known as the HGVP (for Hyper Velocity Gliding Projectile).
Tokyo was said to set up a “network of seven satellites” for the guidance of such weapons simultaneously to give its self-defence forces access to navigational data without relying on “foreign systems.”
Key Hypersonic Projects in Japan
Hypersonic glider project
Japan’s hypersonic glider project intends to create a vehicle that can fly at hypersonic speeds and be used for various purposes, including surveillance and satellite deployment, and is being led by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA).
The glider, known as the Spaceplane Technology Demonstrator, is intended to fly at an altitude of about 80 kilometres (50 miles) and reach speeds of Mach 7 (about 8,500 km per hour). Its length is approximately 8 metres (26 feet), and its wingspan is roughly 3 metres (10 feet).
A scramjet engine, which is an air-breathing engine that travels at hypersonic speeds, is used by the Spaceplane Technology Demonstrator. The engine produces thrust by compressing incoming air and combining it with fuel in supersonic combustion.
JAXA successfully tested a scaled-down prototype of the Spaceplane Technology Demonstrator in 2019. The glider was launched from a rocket at the height of approximately 270 kilometres (170 miles), and its aerodynamics and control systems were tested as it descended.
The Spaceplane Technology Demonstrator will execute a full-scale test flight as the project’s next stage, which is anticipated to happen in the middle of the 2020s. If the project succeeds, Japan will be one of the few nations worldwide to have created hypersonic flying technology, which might substantially boost the nation’s aerospace and defence sectors.
Project for hypersonic missile
Japan is actively working to improve its defence capabilities against prospective threats by developing a hypersonic missile. The Japanese Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics Agency (ATLA), in collaboration with commercial businesses like Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and IHI Corporation, is in charge of the hypersonic missile project.
The Hypersonic Cruise Missile is a missile with a Mach 5 or higher top speed that would be very challenging for present missile defence systems to intercept. With a potential range of up to 1,000 kilometres (620 miles), it is being developed to be launched from fighter jets like the F-15J.
The scramjet engine that is being developed for Japan’s hypersonic glider project will be used by the Hypersonic Cruise Missile to reach its high speeds. The missile will also be outfitted with cutting-edge guidance systems and a high-explosive warhead to ensure it is as effective as possible when used in warfare.
To deploy the Hypersonic Cruise Missile by the middle of the 2020s, Japan wants to conduct several test flights for it in the upcoming years.
Hypersonic wind tunnel
Japan is constructing a hypersonic wind tunnel to test and develop hypersonic technology such as aeroplanes and missiles capable of travelling at speeds greater than Mach 5 (five times the speed of sound). The Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency (JAXA) is leading the hypersonic wind tunnel project in collaboration with other government agencies and commercial enterprises.
The hypersonic wind tunnel, which is scheduled to open in 2023, will be capable of replicating speeds of up to Mach 14 (more than 17,000 km per hour). Researchers will be able to analyse the aerodynamics of hypersonic vehicles and test materials that can endure the severe heat and pressures seen at such speeds.
The hypersonic wind tunnel will be housed at Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kakuda Space Center in Miyagi Prefecture. It will have a test section that is approximately 30 metres (98 feet) long, 20 metres (66 feet) broad, and 10 metres (33 feet) height, making it one of the world’s largest hypersonic wind tunnels.
The hypersonic wind tunnel is part of Japan’s ambitions to become a leader in hypersonic technology and maintain its status as a regional technological powerhouse. It will also have ramifications for Japan’s defence sector, allowing the government to build and test hypersonic weapons that can be employed offensively and defensively.
The Japanese Ministry of Defense’s acquisitions, technology, and logistics division, ATLA, is responsible for developing hypersonic glider and missile projects. Even though MHI has a research facility with a hypersonic wind tunnel in Nagasaki, their work has garnered little press thus far.
Concerning the Hyper Velocity Gliding Projectile (HGVP), its development must be done in two stages. First, and to accelerate its deployment, a so-called “block 1” version, based on existing technologies, will be deployed. Then will come to the “block 2” version, which will have “improved capacities” thanks to the contribution of technologies on which the ATLA is currently working. It must be given a seeker to engage moving targets like an aircraft carrier.