The US State Department has approved a possible sale to Japan of up to 56 Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IB missiles, the Defense Security Agency stated in a press release dated April 9.

The estimated cost of the missiles would be US$1.15 billion, which also includes missile canisters, the hire of US contractors and logistical support services.

“It is vital to US national interests to assist Japan in developing and maintaining a strong and effective self-defense capability,” the statement said. The sale will also “provide Japan with increased ballistic defense capability to assist in defending the Japanese homeland and US personnel stationed there.”

Despite such rhetoric, and although threats posed by North Korea are usually mentioned as the reason for such build-ups, the sale should be seen as part of a move to strengthen the missile defense capabilities of the US and its regional allies in view of the rise of China.

The prime contractor for the deal will be Raytheon Missile Systems in Tucson, Arizona, while BAE Systems in Minneapolis, Minnesota, will develop the canisters.

SM-3 is part of the Aegis Weapon System which uses a hit-to-kill vehicle to intercept ballistic missiles in the middle of their flight path. The Block IB interceptor is also the primary interceptor for the Aegis Ashore site in Romania, where the presumed adversary is Russia.