Japan has an active commercial space launch program using several types of solid-fuel rockets, which could provide the basis for a long-range ballistic missile program. Under the conditions set by the Allied Powers following World War II, Japan was forbidden to develop rockets until 1955.(1) The solid-propellant M-4S, capable of placing a 180 kg payload in a 250 km orbit, was started in 1963 and four vehicles were launched in the period between 1970 and 1972. The M-4S is no longer in production or in service. The M-3C (195 kg in 250 km orbit) and the M-3H (290 kg in 250 km orbit) were the next generation of rockets first launched in 1974. They also are no longer in production or service, having been superceded by the M-3S-II (780 kg in 250 km orbit), first launched in 1985. The initial M-3S-II launches injected Japan's first interplanetary probes, Sakigake and Suisei, toward Halley's Comet.(2) The M-3S-II is also considered to be capable of a surface-to-surface range of 4,000 km with a 500 kg payload.(3)
Development of the new M-V rocket was begun in 1989 and first launched in 1995. The M-V was more than twice the weight of the M-3S-II (130,000 kg vs. 61,700 kg). It was able to place a 1,800 kg into low earth orbit or inject a 300-400-kg payload into space for planetary surveys.(4) Apparently, the M-V would be capable of intercontinental range as a ballistic missile.
A comparison of Japanese solid rocket motor launch vehicles and American ICBMs is interesting. Although precise calculations would be even more interesting, these rough numbers indicate rather clearly Japanese competence in this field.
State System Length Diameter Mass Payload Japan J-1 33 m 1.8 m 89 t 0.8 t M-5 31 m 2.5 m 130 t 2.0 t Epsilon 24 m 2.5 m 91 t 1.2 t USA Minuteman 3 18 m 1.8 m 35 t 1.2 t MX Peacekeeper 22 m 2.3 m 85 t 4.2 t
If converted to ballistic missile applications, the M-5 would seem likely to give Japan an ICBM roughly equivalent to the MX Peacekeeper, and the J-1 would probably give Japan an ICBM surpassing the perfomance of a Minuteman 3. The J-1's first stage is overly large relative to the rest of the stack, which results in poor performance relative to gross liftoff mass. An operational Japanese ICBM, as opposed to an emergency lashup, would use a more optimal configuration, yielding better perfomance.
Japan launched a new rocket September 14, 2013 that it hoped would be a less expensive and more efficient way of sending satellites into space. With an overall length of 24 meters, the Epsilon is somewhat longer than the US Peacekeeper ICBM - 71 feet (21.8 meters), and Epsilon's mass of 91 tons is slightly greater than Peacekeeper's 87,750 kilograms. At 6:06:11 a.m. (Japan Standard Time) January 18, 2017, JAXA launched Epsilon-3, the third Epsilon launch vehicle which encapsulates NEC Small radar satellite "ASNARO-2", from the JAXA Uchinoura Space Center. The launch occurred on time. The launch and flight of Epsilon-3 took place normally.
Epsilon reduces the time needed for the operation of ground facilities and launches to about one fourth of the time required for the M-V Launch Vehicle. To do this, JAXA made the vehicle perform checks onboard and autonomously and reduce the time required for operations on the ground.
The H-2 launch vehicle core stage propellants are cryogenic liquid hydrogen and oxygen. As such, it is ENTIRELY unsuited for conversion to ballistic missile applications. Although it is comparable in performance to the American Titan 34D launch vehicle, the Titan 3 family was never used as an ICBM, and was only very briefly considered for such an application in the early 1960s, when thought was given to using it to carry very high yield [~100 MT] nuclear warheads.
The Japanese launch vehicles have a lower payload fraction than the American ICBMs for at least three reasons:
- The Japanese are using lower performance propellants;
- They are reaching orbit rather than just a ballistic trajectory
- The J-1 is something of a lash up, and has an excessively large first stage.
Firing these vehicles on long-range [~12,500 km] ICBM trajectories would increase their throw-weight by roughly a fifth righ off the bat. Assuming that a Japanese ICBM would have a "Moscow Criteria" range, the distance from Hokkaido to Moscow is only 7,000. Even adding a "Washington Criteria" only gets the requirement up to about 10,000 km. The nominal range of the Minuteman 3 is 13,000 km and that of the Peacekeeper some 12,000 km. Firing the Japanese vehicles to a 7,000 km range would roughly double the throw-weight relative to their space launch payload [these estimates are just gut hunches, since each rocket performs differently on depending on how the propellant is allocated between stages].
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