Japan is considering almost tripling the number of units in its Self-Defense Forces equipped with ballistic missile interception capabilities in the country's remote southwestern islands by the end of fiscal 2031, a draft of the plan has shown.

The plan is expected to be included in the government's National Defense Program Guidelines, a 10-year defense buildup policy to be updated by the end of the year, as the nation focuses on boosting its defense capabilities in southwest Japan, a strategically important area in light of the Chinese military's muscle-flexing in the East China Sea.

The Japan Air Self-Defense Force conducts a drill to deploy Patriot Advanced Capability-3 surface-to-air missile interceptors on an artificial island in Osaka, western Japan, on May 19, 2022, in the wake of North Korea's repeated missile launches. (Kyodo) ==Kyodo

According to the draft obtained by Kyodo News on Sunday, Japan plans to increase the number of SDF ballistic missile defense units in the Nansei Islands, an island chain stretching southwest from Kyushu toward Taiwan, up to 11 from the current four by the fiscal year that ends in March 2032.

Among the seven units acquiring the capability, six will be based in the southern prefecture of Okinawa and one will be deployed on Amami-Oshima Island in southwestern Kagoshima Prefecture, the plan showed. Including the seven in those areas, a total of 14 surface-to-air units across Japan will newly obtain the capability to intercept missiles, it said.

The plan also said that the Ground Self-Defense Force's Type-03 intermediate-range guided missiles, originally designed to intercept airplanes, will be remodeled so that they can shoot down ballistic missiles, set to be deployed in fiscal 2026.

File photo shows a Type-03 intermeidate-range surface-to-air missile. (Photo courtesy of Ground Self-Defense Force)(Kyodo)

The existing surface-to-air missiles are expected to be modified to counter hypersonic glide weapons, which are believed to be under development by countries such as China and Russia, before the planned start of mass production in fiscal 2029 and deployment in fiscal 2032, according to the plan.

Facing growing security challenges such as Beijing's military buildup, Pyongyang's repeated ballistic missile launches and Moscow's prolonged war in Ukraine, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida has pledged to "fundamentally" boost defense capabilities with a substantially increased defense budget.

The National Defense Program Guidelines will be renamed to the National Defense Strategy in line with the U.S. military's naming convention when it is slated to be revised by the year-end along with two other defense-related government documents, including the National Security Strategy, a long-term security policy guideline.

In parallel with beefing up its missile defense abilities, the government aims to possess an enemy base strike capability, or "counterstrike capability," saying that its missile defense systems alone are insufficient to deal with the rapid progress of missile technology development by nations such as China, North Korea and Russia.

Known for its war-renouncing Constitution since 1947, Japan is likely to include the controversial idea of acquiring the counterstrike capability in the National Security Strategy, which would allow Japan to fire upon and disable enemy missiles before they are launched from foreign territory.

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