Industry rivals Raytheon and Lockheed Martin are collaborating with like-minded Japanese business entities with hopes of developing more sophisticated radar systems to help strengthen the country’s defenses, and potentially thwart acts of aggression from hostile nations in the region like North Korea. Raytheon is working with Mitsubishi Electric, while Lockheed Martin has linked up with Fujitsu.
With North Korea attempting to bolster its missile arsenal, the Japanese government is looking into financing a radar defense system that’s largely based off the Aegis defense system, which is used by warships in the Sea of Japan. The Japanese government hopes to extend its radar detection range and make a new version that’s several times stronger than their current models by 2023.
While Aegis defense systems are solely used on mobile warships, proposals for Aegis radar models developed by Raytheon and Lockheed are land-based. Newly proposed models would include components like gallium nitride in their new radar designs, which can amplify a greater amount of power more efficiently than conventional silicon-based semiconductors.
Japanese officials are concerned their ballistic missile defenses couldn’t handle a swarm of attacks, or might get circumvented by warheads launched on lofted trajectories. This past Sunday, North Korea fired what was described as an intermediate-range ballistic missile that traveled about 311 miles off the country’s east coast.
The Japanese government will most likely need at least three Aegis Ashore batteries to cover the entire country. Each system will cost around $700 million, which excludes preloaded missiles. In addition to developing this new form of radar for themselves, this also presents an opportunity for the Japanese government to sell these radar systems to the United States or other countries and offer Japan a chance to reenter the global arms market.
This all began when Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ended a decades-long ban on arms exports in 2014, with hopes of strengthening Japan’s military and lowering unit costs of home-built military equipment. Ever since however, Japan’s longtime isolated defense companies have had limited success with overseas business and government entities. Over the last year, the Japanese government has recently attempted (but failed) to sell a submarine fleet to the Australian government.
Japan is expected to make its final decision on what direction to go with acquiring ground-based Aegis systems in the near future, but has also looked into purchasing a thermal high altitude area defense (THAAD) system. This would add a third defense layer between Aegis and Japan’s PAC-3 Patriot Missiles. Compared to a ground-based Aegis defense system, however, the same number of THAAD batteries needed to cover the entire country would cost around $1 billion, despite coming with preloaded missiles.
Despite their improved surveillance against North Korea, using either system could anger the Chinese government, who has already expressed dismay about THAAD batteries being recently deployed in South Korea. This enables the South Korean military to expand their surveillance parameters into Chinese territory, which is an ability the Japanese would have as well.