Japan is considering buying U.S.-developed Tomahawk cruise missiles as part of efforts to more quickly bolster its deterrence capacity, government officials said Friday, with Tokyo seeking the ability to disable an enemy country's missiles in its territory.

The plan to purchase sea-launched Tomahawks, which have a range of up to 2,500 kilometers and can travel relatively low to the ground, emerged as the government aims to declare the possession of "counterstrike capability" in its key long-term security policy guideline to be updated by the end of this year.

Handout released by the U.S. Navy shows a Tomahawk cruise missile launched from a U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer in the Mediterranean Sea in March 2011. (U.S. Navy/Getty/Kyodo)

However, while the move comes amid increasing security challenges from North Korea and China, acquiring such a capability is controversial in Japan, which has long held an exclusively self-defense-oriented stance under its war-renouncing Constitution.

A senior Defense Ministry official admitted that Japan is thinking about the purchase, but added it all "depends on whether the United States will sell them."

Japan has been trying to develop its own standoff missiles, capable of attacking enemy vessels from outside their firing range and of being fired not only from land but also from ships and aircraft.

To achieve the goal, it is planning to extend the range of the Ground Self-Defense Force's Type-12 surface-to-ship guided missiles.

But the home-developed missiles are not expected to come into service until fiscal 2026. The government has been exploring ways to expedite the process of strengthening deterrence in what it sees as an increasingly severe security environment by turning to Tomahawks.

If the purchase is realized, Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers are likely to be equipped with the U.S. missiles after undertaking modifications to the vessels, according to the officials.

The first combat use of the cruise missiles by the United States was 1991 in the Gulf War. The U.S. military also used them against Syria in 2017 and 2018 in response to its alleged use of chemical weapons on citizens.

Through actual warfare, the cruise missiles have proved that they can hit targets with high accuracy. The missiles have a range that puts the whole of North Korea within striking distance and they are hard to be detected by radar as they fly at low altitudes.

In 2017, the Japanese government had seriously considered a plan to introduce Tomahawks, following North Korea's flurry of ballistic missile tests.

Related coverage:

Kishida, Biden to boost Japan-U.S. deterrence over North Korea launch

Japan to seek record 5.5 tril. yen defense budget to beef up tech

Japan has only 60% of needed interceptor missile stockpiles: estimate