Wed, Jul 30, 2008 - Page 5 News List

Tokyo tests missile defense unit

NOT ‘FOR FUN’ About 250 Ground Self-Defense Forces soldiers participated in the country’s first full-fledged exercise using the PAC-3 unit that it deployed last year

AP , TOKYO

Japan tested a ballistic missile defense unit in the center of Tokyo yesterday, stepping up preparations to secure the capital from what is seen as an increased threat from North Korea.

The drill at the Defense Ministry headquarters in Tokyo involved land-to-air PAC-3 Patriot interceptors, Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba said during a regular news conference.

“We are not deploying PAC-3 just for fun,” Ishiba said. “We have to make sure its capability is truly reliable and the personnel in charge of it are well trained.”

Japan has been aggressively augmenting its missile defense capabilities through joint programs with the US amid concerns about a possible threat from North Korea. North Korea has missiles that can reach any target in Japan, where roughly 50,000 US troops are based under a mutual security pact.

About 250 Ground Self-Defense Forces soldiers participated in yesterday’s drill, the first full-fledged exercise using the PAC-3 unit that Japan deployed last year.

The exercise was designed to test the troops’ ability to use the equipment efficiently and safely, a ministry spokeswoman said on condition of anonymity, citing department policy.

They did not test-fire actual missiles, she said.

The spokeswoman said declined to elaborate because of national security concerns.

Kyodo News agency said the soldiers used training ammunition and adjusted the angle of the missile launcher, along with checking radio signals.

Tokyo and Washington have accelerated a joint missile defense program following North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests in 2006.

Army officials have said they plan to conduct surveys at about a dozen locations that have been selected in Tokyo to test their viability as possible launch sites.

Japan has deployed four PAC-3 missile defense units — each including several launchers, a radar vehicle and a control station — around Tokyo, but their range is not far enough to shoot down ballistic missiles targeting the capital area, meaning they must be ready to deploy on short notice.

The surface-to-air Patriots would be used as a last defense in case interceptors fired from US or Japanese warships fail to knock out incoming missiles.

Japan plans to deploy the PAC-3 defense system at several more bases around the country by March 2011. It will also conduct its first test-firing of the PAC-3 interceptor at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico in September.

To step up its naval defense capability, Japan also has started installing sea-to-air Standard Missile-3 interceptors on its destroyers.

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