Japan to buy Aegis Ashore defence system to counter North Korea missile threats
Japan plans to introduce the Aegis Ashore system at two locations, covering the entire nation with powerful radars
Japan’s Cabinet has approved a plan to purchase a set of costly land-based US missile combat systems to step up the country’s defence capability amid escalating threats from North Korea.
Tuesday’s approval will allow the Defence Ministry to buy two Aegis Ashore systems to add to Japan’s current two-step missile defence consisting of Patriot batteries and Aegis-equipped destroyers.
The purchase would add to growing defence costs as Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government pushes to allow Japan’s military a greater international role and boost its missile combat capability.
Defence officials say two Aegis Ashore units can cover Japan entirely and could cost around 200 billion yen (US$1.8 billion), though they have not released exact figures.
The deployment is planned for 2023.
Last month, North Korea test-fired an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that plunged into the waters of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
“North Korea’s nuclear and missile development has entered a new stage of threat that is more serious and imminent to our country’s security,” the government said as it endorsed the introduction of Aegis Ashore at a cabinet meeting.
Japan needs to drastically improve its missile defence, Tokyo added.
Aegis Ashore is a land-based version of the Aegis combat system developed for warships, a collection of radars, computers and missiles. The Defence Ministry also studied another US anti-missile system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD), but chose Aegis Ashore due to its cost-effectiveness and other factors, officials said.
Watch: how the Aegis Ashore system works
The Ground Self-Defence Force will operate the Aegis Ashore, to be equipped with newly developed SM-3 Block 2A interceptors with enhanced defensive coverage and accuracy compared with the SM-3.
The government plans to start selecting areas for the facilities, but the deployment could trigger concern among residents living nearby, as the system’s radars emit strong radio waves.
Japan is reportedly planning a record US$46 billion defence budget for the next financial year in the face of the North Korean threat.
Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera said this month the country also plans to purchase long-range cruise missiles from US firms with a range of some 900 kilometres.
The move would be controversial as Japan’s pacifist constitution bans the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.
Associated Press, Kyodo, Agence France-Presse