The Japanese military is considering developing a hypersonic anti-ship missile. Reports indicate that the weapon will most likely have a warhead especially designed to penetrate the decks of Chinese aircraft carriers. Japan's defense ministry is planning to deploy “hypervelocity gliding projectile," or HVGP on island bases starting in 2026. 

hypersonic glide vehicle

This, if executed, will be one of the boldest steps taken by Japan when it comes to national security. Defense talks analyze why Japan developing a hypersonic anti-ship weapon is China's worst nightmare? 


Japan has gone from a green-water navy capable of operating only in regional seas. Relatively close to home to a full-fledged blue water fleet operating as far as the Indian Ocean and Baltic Sea. 
China has maintained very high economic growth over the last 20 years & has become a major economic power. It has spent heavily on military buildup & modernized its military forces. The PLAN is now considerably larger than Japan’s Maritime Self Defense Force in both overall tonnage and number of ships.

 China’s rise, as predicted by many experts is not peaceful. In recent times, China has been very aggressive in its posturing. Its activities are far off from being a sensible nation. China’s corrosive behaviors in the South China Sea and neighboring areas have not gone noticed. 

Japan has been increasingly conscious of the fact that its territory which is surrounded by waters is vulnerable to naval strikes. Keeping this in view, one of Japan’s top military priorities has been to deploy weapons that can strike Chinese surface combatants. 


According to Japan’s constitution adopted after the Second World War, is a pacifist country. Article 9 of the Japanese constitution states that "The Japanese people forever renounce war and the threat or use of force.” 

It can be argued that acquiring a long range hypersonic weapon is against the constitution. But slowly but surely, Japan’s way of looking at this is changing in the face of the Chinese threat. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has long sought to enable the Japanese Self Defense Force to have a more aggressive role. 

A clear shift was witnessed when Japanese MoD decided to order 42 F-35Bs for Izumo class aircraft carriers. This is the first time Japan will field a flattop with fixed-wing fighter jets with offensive capability. Japan’s decision to pursue a hypersonic weapon is reinforcing the fact that it slowly but surely organizing itself to meet emerging threats.


 There are currently 3 methods being applied to make hypersonic weapons. The first is using a Scramjet engine. The scramjet is an innovation on the Ramjet. Ramjet engine can power flight to supersonic speeds but scramjet can enable the missiles to reach hypersonic speeds. 

The scramjet engine can power a hypersonic cruise missile. The second is through the use of ALBM or Air-Launched Ballistic missile. As the name suggests, this kind of missile is ballistic in nature but is launched from air, unlike traditional ballistic missiles which are launched from land or sea-based platforms. 

The third is using HGV or Hypersonic Glide Vehicle. In this method, the system is launched to extremely high altitudes using a Ballistic Missile or an aircraft. Where it skips across the Earth’s upper atmosphere. The vehicle then separates from the carrier and glides back to the earth towards its intended target attaining hypersonic speed. 


Japan’s hypersonic missile is a direct response to China’s rough behavior whereby it has executed land-grabs and fortress construction in the South and East China Seas. The basic idea is to deploy the HVGP so that it can help Japanese forces to counter the Chinese military. 

The Mainichi newspaper reported the 2026 model is for “targeting a potential enemy invading Japan's remote islands. In the second stage, an upgraded type will be developed for possible installation in fiscal 2028. Maybe later, featuring claw-shaped payloads, enhanced speeds, and firing ranges and more complex trajectories.” 

Mainichi added another improvement after 2026 could add a “payload that is capable of penetrating the deck of aircraft carriers,”.  Readers may note that hypersonic weapons have significantly more kinetic energy when compared to subsonic or supersonic weapons. It could cripple large warships as well as aircraft carriers with one strike. 

Mainichi explained, “The longer-range gliding missiles to protect the Nansei Islands would make it possible for Japan to respond to China's activities, without deploying the Maritime Self-Defense Force's vessels and aircraft.” 

The paper added further, The Defense Ministry allocated a total of 18.5 billion yen [$170 million] in the fiscal 2018 and 2019 budgets for research on HVGPs for the defense of remote islands. Also plans to add another 25 billion yen [$230 million] in the fiscal 2020 budget. 


 After decades of development, hypersonic weapons are coming to the forefront. Russia in late 2019 claimed that it deployed its first nuclear capable hypersonic boost glide vehicle (HGV) named Avangard. 

It is a surface to surface hypersonic weapon that has made Russia the first country to field a functional hypersonic weapon. 

President Vladimir Putin stated that it puts his country in a class of its own. He described the Avangard, which can fly at 27 times the speed of sound.  It is considered as a technological breakthrough comparable to the 1957 Soviet launch of the first satellite. Mr. Putin has said that Russia’s new generation of nuclear weapons can hit almost any point in the world. It can also evade a US-built missile shield.

 China had shown off mockups of its road-mobile DF-17 as part of the October 2019 celebrations. It observed the 70th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China. The U.S. Air Force successfully conducted a flight test of its own hypersonic ALRRW or Air-Launched Quick-Response Weapon back in June 2019. The ALRRW could enter service as early as 2023.


It must be noted here that China is already witnessing an economic slowdown. China’s aggressive military posturing may come back to haunt it if Japan restarts its militarization. It must be noted that Japan already has a strong military though it has not gone all out in its pursuit. If Japan decisively takes that path, it could rise in a very short time. 

Another important aspect is the U.S is Japan’s ally. It is bound by the treaty of 'Mutual Cooperation and Security' to come to Japan’s aid. In case Japan faces aggression from an external party. So, if a conflict breaks out, Japan will need to hold off China for some time till full-fledged American support is received.

 In this situation, HVGP could play a tactically critical role. Considering all the aspects, we may see a major strategic shift in Asia where Japan prepares itself to mount a challenge against Chinese hegemony.

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