Japan’s government yesterday approved the introduction of the US military’s land-based Aegis missile interceptor system, beefing up its defense against “serious” and “imminent” North Korean threats.
The regime in Pyongyang has fired two missiles over Japan this year and has threatened to “sink” the country into the sea.
Last month, North Korea test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile that later 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 the Aegis Ashore system at a Cabinet meeting.
Japan needs to drastically improve its missile defense, Tokyo added.
Speaking later yesterday at a lecture hosted by Jiji Press, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe vowed to take a hard look at whether the country’s defensive capabilities are sufficient to protect its people.
“While keeping our defense-only policy as the basic premise, I will examine what our defense capability should truly be like while facing up to the severe reality for our country,” he said.
Abe argued that UN sanctions on Pyongyang must be taking effect now and dismissed the view that too much pressure could trigger an “explosion” of violence.
“Thinking that way gives North Korea the maximum bargaining power... What is important is not to give in to North Korea’s bluff,” he said, vowing to keep imposing pressure until Pyongyang begs for dialogue.
Abe also sought cooperation from China to solve the problem.
“As the North Korean issue faces an important phase, the role of China is extremely important,” he said, adding that he wanted to elevate relations with China to “a new level” by reciprocal visits and other exchanges.
Japan plans to introduce the Aegis Ashore system at two locations, covering the entire nation with powerful radars.
The deployment would hand the US ally another layer of defense in addition to the RIM-161 Standard Missile 3 launched by Aegis destroyer vessels and MIM-104F Patriot Advanced Capability 3 missiles.
However, it would take years before the Aegis Ashore system is operational, Japanese officials said.
The contract is yet to be signed with the US and deployment at two locations could cost a total of ￥200 billion (US$1.78 billion), including the cost of building new facilities.
However, officials insisted the new system would boost Japan’s missile defense.
“Naval vessels need to return to their ports regularly for rest and refueling, but if it’s ground deployment, we will be able to operate almost 24-7,” an official said. “We can be on permanent vigilance even when signs [of missile firing] are hard to detect.”
Japan is reportedly planning a record US$46 billion defense budget for the next fiscal year in the face of the North Korean threat.
Japanese Minister of Defense Itsunori Onodera earlier this month said the country also plans to purchase long-range cruise missiles from US firms with a range of about 900km.
The move would be controversial, as Japan’s pacifist constitution bans the use of force as a means of settling international disputes.
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