Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun, through sources from the Japanese Ministry of Defense, reported that the development of its hyper-velocity gliding projectile (HVGP), already underway, will be improved to give it the ability to target an aircraft carrier. It is due to be operational as early as 2026.

The announcement indicates that the improvements will give Japan enhanced defenses of the Senkaku Islands where Chinese vessels have been seen in areas near the islands. They are currently under Japanese control and are about 260 miles from a U.S. military base in Okinawa. Two of the larger islands in the Senkaku chain, called the Diaoyu in China, are of interest to Beijing which conflicts with Japan’s interests.

Stephen Nagy, an associate professor of international relations at Tokyo’s International Christian University, commented, “It seems very much as if the Japanese are taking a page out of China’s playbook with this missile. China has developed its hypersonic ‘carrier killer’ missile as part of its Anti-Access Area-Denial strategy to keep US carrier groups beyond the first island chain and we know that the US is doing something quite similar, and now the Japanese are following suit.”

According to the Mainichi Shimbun, the improved HVGP would have an “alternative payload” with the capability of punching through the deck of an aircraft carrier. The upgrades would also give it a better range and a higher maximum speed plus more advanced trajectory capabilities. Also, in the plans is a second phase with even more advanced features including "claw-shaped payloads, enhanced speeds and firing ranges” to be deployed in 2028.

The improvements over the original design that were first announced in 2018 might be a reaction to China’s newest aircraft carrier, the Shandong, deployed in 2019 and the rising presence of Chinese boats in Japanese waters including the Senkakus.

First announced in late 2018, the HVGP is launched from a rocket from high altitudes and is maneuvered with a GPS system making it more difficult to intercept than a conventional missile. It glides toward targets like an opponent’s warship or an island that has been invaded.

Like most military projects, the improvements will not come at a discount. 18.5 billion yen (about $168 million) was allocated to the missile in previous budgets and the improvements are expected to add another 25 million yen ($ 227 million) more than doubling the original costs.

Nagy said, “In the lead-up to President Xi Jinping’s planned visit to Japan in April, Japan has been sending the same consistent message that it wants Chinese ships to stop penetrating Japanese waters around those islands. The message is that if China wants a better and more stable relationship with Japan, then Beijing needs to decrease its provocative behavior.”

He added, “And this information on these new missiles is also part of that message. It shows that Tokyo is not only upping the pressure through words but also through an enhanced military capability.”