Japan is strongly considering acquiring and deploying the Aegis Ashore missile defense system to bolster defenses against growing missile threats from North Korea, Japanese defense minister said on Monday.
Tomomi Inada told a committee of the Upper House of Japan’s National Diet that, faced with growing threats from North Korea’s ongoing missile and nuclear development, ballistic missile defense (BMD) continues to be a top priority for Japan’s government.
“In order to bolster capabilities to defend the whole area of our nation all the time, we will… consider introducing ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems for the future such as Aegis Ashore, without any loose ends,” Inada told the Upper House’s audit committee on May 15.
Inada officially expressed an interest in procuring the Aegis Ashore system, a land-based version of the usually warship-based Aegis system, which is made by Lockheed Martin.
The news follows intense speculation in Japanese press about whether the Japanese government would move to bolster defenses and just a day after North Korea conducted its seventh missile test this year.
The missile, which North Korean state media have dubbed the Hwasong-12, flew 30 minutes and landed in the Sea of Japan (known as the East Sea in Korea), but outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).
Japan already has a two-layer ballistic missile defense system: ship-based SM-3 interceptors which target missiles in space at a maximum altitude of 500 km, and land-based PAC-3 batteries which aim to intercept them as they reach the ground at an altitude of 20-30 km.
The Aegis Ashore system features ground-based SM-3 Block IIA interceptors and provides additional upper-tier missile defense coverage, complementing the lower-tier coverage provided by the Patriot PAC-3 systems.
Inada’s predecessor, Gen Nakatani, said in 2015 that Tokyo would consider deploying the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile defense system, also manufactured by Lockheed Martin, to counter the growing threat posed by North Korea’s military provocations.
But Japan’s options are limited by budgetary constraints. A THAAD unit costs more than ¥100 billion (approximately $880 million), while an Aegis Ashore unit costs between ¥70 billion to ¥80 billion ($616 million to $705 million).
THAAD is capable of intercepting missiles in or outside the Earth’s atmosphere.
Japan’s neighbor, South Korea, announced in July last year that it would deploy a battery of the advanced air defense system to Seongju County, North Gyeongsang Province.
Key components were deployed late last month, and the system is now reported to be fully operational.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: U.S. Naval Forces Europe-Africa
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