They agreed that Japan will start acquiring hundreds of Tomahawk cruise missiles from the United States in fiscal 2025, a year ahead of schedule. Capable of reaching distant targets, they will form the core of Japan's counterstrike capabilities.
Kihara discussed modernizing the Japan-US alliance and tackling "shared challenges" with Austin.
Austin told him the US supports Japan's "bold decision to invest in advanced capabilities, including counterstrike."
Kihara: 'The Block IV Tomahawk has sufficient capabilities to defend Japan'
Japan's defense ministry plans to acquire 400 missiles in line with its decision last year to obtain counterstrike capabilities.
The ministry has earmarked about 211.3 billion yen, roughly 1.4 billion dollars, in this fiscal year's budget to cover the cost of the missiles and other related expenses.
Japan originally planned to acquire the latest version of the Tomahawk, the Block V. But because it moved up the schedule by one year, it will initially buy the Block IV, which is still being used by the US military and has the same 1,600 km range as the Block V.
During his visit to the US, Kihara told reporters, "The Block IV has similar functions in terms of guidance methods and range, and we have concluded that it has sufficient capabilities to defend our country."
Counterstrike capabilities against missile bases
Japan's defense white paper for 2023 stresses the need for the country to possess counterstrike capabilities as it faces the most severe and complex security environment since World War Two.
The report notes China has become a serious source of concern for both Japan and the international community as it accelerates its drone activities and steps up cooperation with the Russian military.
It also refers to North Korea's repeated launches of ballistic missiles.
The report stresses that counterstrike capabilities against missile bases will be a key to deterring an invasion of Japan.
It also states that counterattacks will be limited to military targets.
Aim is to rapidly enhance deterrence
Japanese Prime Minister Kishida Fumio met with US President Joe Biden in January and explained changes that had been announced the previous month, including a large increase in the defense budget and the decision to acquire counterstrike capabilities.
Biden commended Japan for fundamentally reinforcing its defense capabilities.
The aim of the decision to acquire the Tomahawks ahead of schedule is to enable Japan and the US to work together to rapidly enhance deterrence amid an increasingly severe regional security environment.
A security expert says the defense ministry should provide the public with a detailed explanation of its decision.