Extended range version of ASM-3 is being mass produced in response to China's maritime expansion.
Story by Yoshihiro Inaba with additional reporting by Xavier Vavasseur
The ASM-3A announcement was made as part of a broader announcement in which the MoD published the “Results of the Selection of New Critical Equipment“.
For the record, Japan started full-scale development of a missile called XASM-3 in FY2010 that can be operated by the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (航空自衛隊, Kōkū Jieitai or JASDF) F-2 fighter jets. The XASM-3 was an air-launched anti-ship missile (ASM) that cruised at supersonic speeds (above Mach 3) thanks to the combination of a solid rocket booster and ramjet engine. It had a range of about 200 km (108 nautical miles).
In 2017, a live-fire test was conducted using a decommissioned JMSDF vessel. The development was completed in 2018 and procurement would begin in fiscal year 2019 as ASM-3.
However, in order to respond to the increasing performance of air defense systems fitted aboard Chinese navy surface vessels, the actual procurement of the ASM-3 was postponed. It was decided to develop the ASM-3 (改). 改 stands for modified. This version is based on the ASM-3 and has an even longer range.
The Japanese MoD made awarded in 2020 a 8.9 billion yen ($85 million) contract to local defense company Mitsubishi Heavy Industries for the the development of ASM-3 (改). The development of the ASM-3 (改) will be carried out from FY2020 to FY2025.
In order to reduce costs and shorten the development period, the size of the main body will remain unchanged from the ASM-3, and the range will be extended by reducing the overall weight of the missile.
The ASM-3A, which mass production has just been announced, is said to be a missile that reflects the results of the development process of the ASM-3 (改), but its details are unknown. However, the development of the ASM-3 (改) has just started this year, and therefore it is thought that this missile may actually have a slightly extended range compared to the ASM-3.
It is important to note that the development of the ASM-3 (改) will continue even after the ASM-3A goes into mass production, thus the ASM-3A is considered to be a stop-gap solution to counter China’s naval threats.
JSM, LRASM & ASM-3 anti-ship missiles for JASDF
Under current plans, the Japan Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF) will deploy three different types of modern anti-ship missiles:
- the Joint Strike Missile (JSM) for the F-35,
- the Long Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM) for the modernized F-15J/DJ fleet,
- the extended-range ASM-3A for the F-2.
Advantages of fielding various anti-ship missile types
The main reason why the JSDF deploys multiple types of anti-ship missiles is to ensure that the combination of the characteristics of each missile can break through enemy air defense systems. For example, the JSM has the advantage of being hard to detect by enemy radar through sea skimming, but its range is not very long (between 100 and 300 nautical miles depending on mission profile). The LRASM on the other hand offers a much longer range (about 432 nautical miles), but its flight speed is still subsonic. The ASM-3A will break through the enemy’s air defense system at the supersonic speed of about Mach 3, but it range will likely be less compared to LRASM.
However, if two or three of these new generation anti-ship missiles are operated in combination, the targeted adversary will have to take into account each missile’s characteristics, which will place a heavy load on its air defense systems.
In addition to these new air launched ASM for the JASDF, the ground forces (JGSDF) are also developing a new, extended range missile (reportedly with a range of 2,000 km or 1080 nautical miles). Japan’s Acquisition, Technology & Logistics Agency (ATLA) is also developing a Hypersonic Anti-Ship Missile and a Hyper-Velocity Gliding Projectile (HVGP) which will be able to target high value naval targets. If a hypersonic guided missile, which flies at high altitude at high speed, is added to the mix of anti-ship missiles, the probability of the missiles hitting an enemy ship becomes extremely high. It can be said that the JSDF is steadily advancing its countermeasures with the future development of the Chinese navy in mind.