Japan’s new missile defence system deployment will take six years

Locals are concerned about the plan, fearing the missile shields could become targets of terrorism and their powerful radars may harm humans

PUBLISHED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 5:49pm
UPDATED : Monday, 30 July, 2018, 5:49pm

Japan is expected to take about six years to finish deploying one of the new US-developed land-based missile defence systems Tokyo says it needs to protect the country against North Korean missile attacks, officials said on Monday.

The schedule for installing an Aegis Ashore missile battery suggested by the US is one year behind Japan’s plan and the Defence Ministry is expected to call on Washington for help to set it up earlier.

Defence Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters that the two defence systems, including Lockheed Martin’s cutting-edge SSR radar, will cost 268 billion yen (US$2.4 billion).

Onodera insisted the systems are vital for Japan’s security as “the threat from North Korea is unchanged”.

“We are not aware of any moves leading North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons and missiles,” he said.

For the deployment of the first battery, the US said about six years are needed after “concluding a contract” with Japan, according to the minister.

The government is considering two Ground Self-Defence Force training areas in Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures as candidate sites to install the Aegis Ashore systems. It had sought to complete the first deployment in the 2023 financial year.

The two batteries are said to be able to cover the whole Japanese archipelago.

The deployment plan has raised concerns among residents of the northeastern and western prefectures as they fear that the missile shields could become targets of terrorism as they will be deployed on stationary sites.

Locals are also worried that the strong radio waves emitted by the systems’ radar could harm their health.

Japan decided to introduce the ground-based missile defence systems at a cabinet meeting in December after North Korea test fired about 20 missiles in 2017, two of which flew over Japanese territory.

However, a government source said on Monday that despite lingering concerns about North Korea’s arms development programme, units of the Air Self-Defence Force in charge of operating Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile interceptors in western Japan and the northernmost mainland of Hokkaido will be withdrawn.

The decision follows diminishing tensions after the historic summit between US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in mid-June in Singapore.

Onodera told reporters it would be necessary to repair and maintain the interceptors as a year has passed since they were deployed in those areas.

Japan has already loosened the alert level of its Aegis vessels equipped with Standard Missile-3 interceptors. They are no longer always in the Sea of Japan as previously, but they will still be prepared to intercept missiles within about 24 hours if signs of a possible missile launch are detected.