Fri, Sep 01, 2017 - Page 6 News List

Japan seeks missile funding in budget

PYONGYANG THREAT:National security expert Narushige Michishita said the North ‘has demonstrated its capability to hit targets anywhere in Japan, including Tokyo’

AP, TOKYO

The Japanese Ministry of Defense is seeking a record-high budget to add missile interceptors and other equipment to defend the nation from more North Korean weapons launches.

The ¥5.26 trillion (US$48 billion) request for the fiscal year beginning in April next year is a 2.5 percent increase from this year.

A big chunk of the request announced yesterday is to cover purchases of upgraded missile interceptors with expanded range, altitude and accuracy.

They include the ship-to-air SM-3 Block IIA jointly developed by Japan and the US and the surface-to-air PAC-3 MSE.

On Tuesday, Pyongyang fired a missile that flew over Japan and landed in the northern Pacific Ocean. It flight-tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) in July and has threatened to send missiles near the US territory of Guam, where Washington has military bases.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called Tuesday’s missile firing an “unprecedented, grave and serious threat.”

On Wednesday, Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera, an advocate of bolstering Japan’s missile and strike-back capability, said Tokyo must quickly upgrade its missile arsenal.

North Korea’s ICBM tests demonstrate its ability to strike at the US mainland, but it does not mean Japan is off the hook, experts say.

“North Korea has demonstrated its capability to hit targets anywhere in Japan, including Tokyo and Okinawa,” said Narushige Michishita, a national security expert at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies.

Japan has a two-step missile defense system — interceptors on destroyers, and if they fail, surface-to-air PAC-3s.

Technically, the current setup can deal with falling debris or missiles fired at Japan, experts say, but it is not good enough for high-attitude missiles or multiple attacks.

The requested SM-3 Block IIA has double the range of its earlier model used on Japanese destroyers.

The budget request related to missile defense comes to about ¥180 billion.

To diversify and multiply its missile interceptors, the ministry is also seeking to add the land-based fixed Aegis Ashore missile-defense system, while considering an option for the mobile and more costly Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense.

Ministry officials said they would decide later this year.

Experts say a pair of Aegis Ashore could cover Japan at ¥80 billion each, but the cost could be driven up by the price of land, construction, installation and security.

Shooting down a high-altitude ICBM while it flies over Japan is impossible technically and difficult legally for now due to Japan’s self-defense-only principle under its war-renouncing constitution.

Elsewhere in the budget, the ministry is to keep the costly US-made uncrewed reconnaissance aircraft Global Hawk and is asking for ¥14.4 billion in assembly cost.

A steep 23 percent price increase prompted some officials to suggest scrapping the Global Hawk, but the ministry settled on continuing with the plan with careful price control.

The budget request also includes ¥96 billion for two compact destroyers as part of Japan’s ongoing plan to increase its fleet size from 48 to 54; ¥70 billion for a new lithium battery-powered submarine that can operate longer with upgraded detection capability.

It also has a request for ¥88 billion for six F-35 stealth jets to be deployed in Misawa in northern Japan.

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