An Air Force B-1B Lancer flies with a Japanese F-15 above the East China Sea near the Senkaku Islands, Aug. 15, 2017.

An Air Force B-1B Lancer flies with a Japanese F-15 above the East China Sea near the Senkaku Islands, Aug. 15, 2017. (Courtesy of Japan Air Self-Defense Force)

TOKYO — Japan is developing supersonic glide bombs to defend remote islands that include an uninhabited chain in the East China Sea disputed by China, according to an agency under the country’s defense ministry.

The hope is that the weapons — formerly known as hyper velocity gliding projectiles — can be launched from nearby islands to deter potential attacks, the Ministry of Defense said. They should also be less likely to be intercepted by anti-aircraft artillery.

The ministry’s Acquisition, Technology and Logistics Agency began its glide-bomb research this year and will continue with trial production through March 2025, with plans of putting the weapons into service by March 2026, a spokesman recently told Stars and Stripes in an email.

It would have taken seven more years to bring the bombs to fruition under the original development schedule; however, the spokesman said the project was fast-tracked to cover Japan’s defense needs.

“It is necessary [for Japan] to be equipped as soon as possible,” he said, adding that the nation lacks the ability to effectively attack enemy forces that take over remote islands.

The Senkakus in the East China Sea are often a source of tension between Japan and China. Earlier this year, Tokyo protested to Beijing after a submarine, presumed to be Chinese, was detected near Okinawa and the Senkakus. Then-Vice Foreign Minister Shinsuke Sugiyama expressed “great concern” over the issue and urged China not to repeat the incursion.

Two Chinese frigates and a supply vessel were spotted this month near Miyako Island — not far from the Senkakus.

Japan’s $47.4 billion defense budget request for fiscal year 2019 asked for $123.3 million for supersonic glide bomb research for the upcoming year. The defense ministry estimates the total cost of development to be about $605.9 million, according to the agency spokesman.

The weapon’s long range could prompt concern among neighboring countries, though Japan fields only a self-defense force and its constitution bans offensive warfare.

The spokesman said no plans have been set for where the bombs will be deployed or who will operate them.

kusumoto.hana@stripes.comTwitter: @HanaKusumoto

doornbos.caitlin@stripes.comTwitter: @CaitlinDoornbos

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Caitlin Doornbos covers the Pentagon for Stars and Stripes after covering the Navy’s 7th Fleet as Stripes’ Indo-Pacific correspondent at Yokosuka Naval Base, Japan. Previously, she worked as a crime reporter in Lawrence, Kan., and Orlando, Fla., where she was part of the Orlando Sentinel team that placed as finalist for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news. Caitlin has a Bachelor of Science in journalism from the University of Kansas and master’s degree in defense and strategic studies from the University of Texas at El Paso.
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Hana Kusumoto is a reporter/translator who has been covering local authorities in Japan since 2002. She was born in Nagoya, Japan, and lived in Australia and Illinois growing up. She holds a journalism degree from Boston University and previously worked for the Christian Science Monitor’s Tokyo bureau.

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