Japan began deploying its first advanced Patriot missile defense system yesterday near Tokyo, part of an effort to accelerate missile defense capabilities following North Korea's missile and nuclear tests last year.
The installment comes about a year earlier than originally planned.
Two PAC-3 launchers, brought in on about 10 military trucks, arrived at the Iruma Self-Defense Force base in Saitama, just north of Tokyo, before dawn. Japan plans to deploy about 30 mobile PAC-3 launchers at 10 military bases across the nation through 2010.
The Patriots would be used as a last resort if interceptors fired from US or Japanese ships fail to knock out incoming missiles. Japan will begin introducing Standard Missile-3 interceptors on its destroyers over the next few years as part of that effort.
Japanese Defense Minister Fumio Kyuma welcomed yesterday's deployment.
"We will continue to improve our preparedness by steadily achieving deployment plans that are coming up," he said.
The Patriot surface-to-air missiles offer protection for a relatively limited area -- about a 100km radius. They work on a hit-to-kill basis as the target missile is making its descent toward its target, rather than intercepting the target at a higher altitude earlier in its flight.
Japan stepped up its missile defenses after North Korea shot a ballistic missile over its main island in 1998. Tokyo decided to further accelerate the building of its missile shield following Pyongyang's test of long-range ballistic missiles in July and its nuclear test in October.
Last month, the US military deployed a newly operational detachment of Patriot missiles at a base on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa, where most of the roughly 50,000 US troops in the country are based.
In related news, Japanese police are probing whether a Japanese navy officer married to a Chinese woman leaked confidential data on a destroyer radar system after taking home a floppy disk with the information, Japanese media said yesterday.
Asked by reporters about the incident, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said it was under investigation, adding only: "Secrecy must be strictly preserved in matters concerning security."
Kyodo news agency said the floppy disk contained data about the high-tech Aegis radar system, which is used on Japanese destroyers that are to be equipped with SM-3 missile interceptors under Tokyo's missile defense program.
Police found the disk when they searched the home of the petty officer second class after his wife was arrested on suspicion of violating immigration law, Kyodo said.
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