MELBOURNE, Australia — Japan has launched the first of a new class of guided-missile destroyers with ballistic missile defense capabilities, as the U.S. ally continues to bolster its defenses against the missile threat from North Korea.

Named the Maya, the first of two 27DDG-class destroyers ordered by the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force was launched in a ceremony attended by Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera at Japan Marine United’s shipyard at Isogo Ward in Yokohama, south of Japan’s capital Tokyo, according to Japan’s Defense Ministry.

The 8,200-ton, 170-meter--long destroyers are equipped with the Aegis Baseline J7 combat system and the Northrop Grumman AN/SPQ-9B radar system, which provides the capability to detect and track low-flying, high-speed, low-observable anti-ship missile targets in heavy-clutter environments. Aegis Baseline J7 is the Japanese equivalent for the current Aegis Baseline 9/BMD 5.1 standard.

The ships will also be able to fire the SM-3 Block IIA missile currently being jointly developed by the United States and Japan for ballistic missile defense, while the northeast Asian country has also been flagged as a potential customer for the SM-6 missile developed for use against air, surface and some types of ballistic missile targets.

Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun previously reported that the 27DDGs will be equipped with Cooperative Engagement Capability, or CEC, of which Japan received U.S. State Department approval to acquire in August 2015 under a $1.5 billion Foreign Military Sales request that also included the Aegis Baseline 9 system, AN/SPQ-9B and other associated equipment for the two ships.

The newspaper also reported that Japan is considering fitting its Northrop Grumman E-2D Hawkeye early warning aircraft with CEC, which will link the detection and tracking sensors of aircraft and ships to provide an “integrated fire control capability” for warships and combat aircraft defending against air and missile threats.

Japan has four E-2D Hawkeyes on order, all of which are to be delivered in 2020.

The Maya is expected to be commissioned into the JMSDF in 2020, with the as-yet unnamed second ship scheduled for launch sometime and 2019 and commissioning set for 2021.

Mike Yeo is the Asia correspondent for Defense News.

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