TOKYO — Japan’s Defense Ministry announced Tuesday it has signed contracts worth nearly 380 billion yen (U.S. $3 billion) with the country’s top defense contractor, Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, to develop and mass produce long-range missiles for deployment as early as 2026.
The news comes amid growing fears in Japan of China’s increasing military strength.
The ministry said the contracts include enhanced versions of Mitsubishi’s Type 12 missiles for surface, sea and air launches, as well as a hypersonic ballistic missile for the defense of remote islands.
Mass production of Type 12 land-to-ship guided missiles and hypersonic gliding missiles, which are already developed, will begin this year, the ministry said. Officials refused to provide the number of missiles that Japan plans to deploy but indicated that production is expected to gradually increase over the next five years.
Due to limited space at home, Japan plans to hold predeployment missile tests at military bases in the United States, ministry officials said.
Another contract is for development of submarine-launched long-range anti-ship guided missiles, beginning this year and planned through 2027. Timing for their deployment is still undecided.
The development plan is based on a new National Security Strategy that Japan announced in December as it seeks to significantly increase its military power to deter potential threats from China, North Korea and Russia.
The new strategy includes developing a preemptive strike capability, a sharp break from Japan’s postwar commitment to limit its military to self-defense.
Japan has been strengthening defense in its southwest and recently placed missile units on remote islands as deterrence in case of an emergency involving Taiwan, which China considers a rogue province and has threatened to take back by force. But residents of Japan’s Okinawa are divided over the move because of fears of becoming embroiled in a conflict.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan is also buying 400 American-made long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles capable of hitting targets up to 1,600 kilometers (994 miles) away for deployment beginning in 2026.
The Tomahawks are a stopgap while Mitsubishi works to upgrade and extend the range of its missiles.
Japan plans to nearly double its military spending over the next five years to 43 trillion yen.