Japan signs deal to purchase US Tomahawk missiles

Tomahawk cruise missile
A Tomahawk cruise missile is fired from the US Navy Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Gravely, during strike operations conducted in January 2024 against Houthi rebel targets in Yemen. Japan has become the latest US partner to sign up to purchase Tomahawk. (Credit: US Navy)

Japan has signed an agreement with the United States to purchase the Raytheon Tomahawk land-attack sea-launched cruise missile.

Under the agreement – which was signed at Japan’s Ministry of Defence, Tokyo on 18 January – Japan will purchase up to 400 Tomahawks.

According to media reports, the Tomahawk purchase is part of wider Japanese plans to strengthen its military forces, including through co-operation with close partners, in response to increased regional threats.

In November 2023, the US State Department approved a prospective Foreign Military Sale (FMS) case for Japan to acquire Tomahawk for an estimated USD2.35 billion. The US Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DCSA) stated that Japan had requested a buy of up to 200 Tomahawk RGM-109E Block IV (Tactical Tomahawk, or TacTom) all-up-rounds, up to 200 Tomahawk RGM-109E Block V Tomahawk all-up-rounds, and 14 Tactical Tomahawk Weapon Control System (TTWCS) installations. The approval also covered a range of support elements, including for the Tomahawk weapon system and the Mission Distribution Software Suite Centers.

Japan’s purchase of 14 TTWCS kits, which are installed one per platform, suggests an initial fit across select platform types and numbers.

In December, Japan’s defence minister Minoru Kihara announced that the country would accelerate its Tomahawk acquisition, bringing the purchase forward by a year.

The DCSA statement said that “The proposed sale will improve Japan’s capability to meet current and future threats by providing a long-range, conventional surface-to-surface missile with significant stand-off range that can neutralize growing threats.”

Tomahawk is long established in service with the US Navy and the UK Royal Navy (RN), with the RN becoming the second operator in 1998. Several navies are understood to have considered a Tomahawk purchase since then, but no agreements were concluded. Now, however, three different navies are at different stages of completing Tomahawk acquisitions – the Royal Australian Navy, the Royal Netherlands Navy, and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force. All three navies have previously expressed interest in buying Tomahawk. However, it appears that changing strategic circumstances and increasing regional instability are driving fresh decisions.

Block IV Tomahawk is in service, with Block V beginning to arrive. The Block V inventory will consist of new weapons, which began rolling off Raytheon’s production line in 2021, plus upgraded Block IVs (with upgrade work being conducted during routine missile re-certification).

The Block V’s significant upgrade is the addition of the Maritime Strike Tomahawk (MST) anti-ship cruise missile capability.

by Dr. Lee Willett