Two Japanese Destroyers Score in Ballistic Missile Defense Test off Hawaii

Two Japanese Maya-class destroyers successfully test-fired SM-3 interceptors against ballistic missile targets off Hawaii last week, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) announced on Monday. The tests at the Pacific Missile Range on Kauai Island, Hawaii, validated the ballistic missile defense capabilities of Japan’s newest destroyers JS Maya (DDG-179) and JS Haguro (DDG-180) in cooperation […]

JS Maya (DDG-179) fires an SM-3 BlockIIA on Nov. 16, 2022. JMSDF Photo

Two Japanese Maya-class destroyers successfully test-fired SM-3 interceptors against ballistic missile targets off Hawaii last week, the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) announced on Monday.

The tests at the Pacific Missile Range on Kauai Island, Hawaii, validated the ballistic missile defense capabilities of Japan’s newest destroyers JS Maya (DDG-179) and JS Haguro (DDG-180) in cooperation with the U.S. Navy and U.S. Missile Defense Agency.

On Wednesday, Maya fired an SM-3 Block IIA missile, successfully intercepting the target outside the atmosphere in the first launch of the missile from a Japanese ship. The SM-3 Block IIA has two distinct new features: larger rocket motors that will allow the missile to defend broader areas from ballistic missile threats and a larger kinetic warhead.

Raytheon Image

On Friday, Haguro fired an SM-3 Block IB missile with a successful hit outside the atmosphere. This was the first time the two ships conducted SM-3 firings in the same time period. In a Sunday test, the two ships worked together to share tracking data in a simulated ballistic missile shootdown.

“The success of this joint test marks a critical milestone in demonstrating, for the first time, a live fire of an SM-3 Blk IIA from a Japanese ship,” said MDA Director Vice Adm. Jon Hill in a Monday statement. “The cooperative development of the SM-3 Blk IIA by the Japanese government, U.S. government and industry team, and the integration with the Aegis Weapon System on Japan’s Ballistic Missile Defense-capable ships, is a remarkable achievement and vitally important in defending against an ever-increasing threat. I congratulate the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force, U.S. Navy, MDA team, and our industry partners on this accomplishment.”

Maya and Haguro are Japan’s newest destroyers, commissioned in 2020 and 2021 respectively, and, along with the two Atago-class and four Kongo-class destroyers, are equipped with the Aegis Combat System. Japan is planning to build two Aegis destroyers with BMD capabilities, although recent Japanese media reports have stated that Japan is considering downsizing the planned 20,000 tons to 8,200 tons — similar in size to the Maya class in order to make the ships more mobile.

Japan’s MoD said Monday that over the weekend destroyer JS Setogiri (DD-156) operated with U.S carrier USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), cruiser USS Chancellorsville (CG-62), destroyer USS Milius (DDG-69) and Australian replenishment ship HMAS Stalwart (A304) under Article 95-2 of the Japan Self Defense Force (JSDF) Law during Japan-U.S.-Australia trilateral training in the waters south of Kanto to south of Shikoku after receiving a request from the U.S. military and Australian Defence Force (ADF).

JS Maya(DDG-179) in Port of Kobe, Japan on Nov. 23, 2020. JMSDF Photo

Article 95-2 — which came into force in March 2016 — allows for the protection of foreign states when their assets contribute to the defense of Japan. Japan has used this law in the past to protect U.S. and Australian ships. Japan first used the article to protect a U.S. ship in 2017 and an Australian ship in November 2021.

The Japan MOD release stated that Setogiri’s protection mission was the first asset protection conducted through cooperation among JSDF, U.S. military and ADF following the June 11 Trilateral Defense Ministers Meeting Joint Vision Statement.

“This represents how interoperability has enhanced, and much closer collaboration has become possible among the three countries. Furthermore, it is of crucial importance in deepening the trilateral partnership, which is a strong bedrock for upholding peace and security in Japan and the Indo-Pacific region,” reads the Monday statement.