Japan shows China and North Korea it can shoot down ballistic missiles, with some help from the US

Missile Intercept Test Missile Defence Agency
  • An upgraded Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force Atago-class destroyer equipped with the US ship-based Aegis anti-missile system intercepted a ballistic missile Tuesday evening in a test involving US and Japanese personnel.
  • A SM-3 Block IB Threat Upgrade interceptor missile successfully eliminated a ballistic missile fired from the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Hawaii.
  • The successful test signals that Japan’s ballistic missile defence capabilities are maturing in the face of growing threats from China and North Korea.
  • The US and Japan are jointly developing another interceptor, but there have been certain still-to-be-resolved setbacks during testing.

A Japanese warship, using a US ship-based anti-missile system, successfully intercepted and destroyed an incoming ballistic missile over the Pacific Ocean Tuesday evening, the Missile Defence Agency revealed in an official statement.

An upgraded Japanese Maritime Self Defence Force Atago-class guided-missile destroyer detected and tracked a simple, separating ballistic missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility at Barking Sands, Kauai, Hawaii. Responding to the threat, the ship’s onboard Aegis Weapon System tracked it and launched a Standard Missile-3 Block IB Threat Upgrade missile that intercepted it mid-flight.

“This success provides confidence in the future capability for Japan to defeat the developing threats in the region,” Lt. Gen. Sam Greaves, director of the Missile Defence Agency, said in a statement apparently referencing Beijing’s arsenal of ballistic missiles and Pyongyang’s program, which the regime suspended after the Trump-Kim talks and which has involved test-firing ballistic missiles over Japan.

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Rocket Force “is developing and testing several new variants of missiles and developing methods to counter ballistic missile defences,” the Pentagon explained in its 2018 report on Chinese military power.

“We are committed to assisting the government of Japan in upgrading its national missile defence capability against emerging threats,” Greaves said, according to Reuters.

The latest intercept will enhance the overall capabilities of Japan’s Atago-class destroyers, which have been limited to air defence while the Kongo-class guided-missile destroyers have employed ballistic missile defence systems, Tom Karako, a missile defence expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote on Twitter after news of the successful test.

The US and Japan are jointly developing another interceptor missile – the SM-3 Block IIA, but testing has been a little hit or miss lately. The system has been tested three times since the start of 2017, and it has only had one successful intercept.

The Missile Defence Agency called Monday’s test a “significant milestone in the growing cooperation between Japan and the U.S. in the area of missile defence.”