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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Japanese defense minister Itsunori Onodera announced new details Monday over the country’s plans to install the Aegis Ashore missile defense system, citing the continued threat from North Korea, the country’s Kyodo News Agency reported.
Defense minister Onodera said the country would spend 134 billion yen (USD$1.2 billion) per unit on two ground-based missile defense batteries (USD$2.4 billion total) – a plan adopted by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration last fall.
Estimated costs at the time, however, were around USD$900 million per unit, likely setting up another battle between domestic opponents of the plan and the Abe administration due to the rise in cost.
Onodera said he expects the first systems to be operational six years after the contract is finalized, possibly pushing the plan back from the originally-stated target of 2023.
It was announced earlier this month that Japan had chosen Lockheed Martin to provide radar systems for the Aegis batteries, specifically its Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR), which is expected to improve upon the capabilities of current destroyer-based systems.
Defending the decision to move ahead with the long-planned missile defense project, Onodera said Monday he was “not aware of any actions taken” by North Korea to dispose of nuclear weapons and missiles.
He added that it was necessary to deploy the new batteries since “the threat from North Korea has not changed.”
The announcement comes just days after North Korean state media reiterated its attack on the Aegis Ashore plans, criticizing Onodera and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga by name for describing it as a threat.
“This is just a sly trick of the Japanese regime to calm down the growing concern and discontent of the citizens in the area and step up the moves for emerging a military giant at any cost,” a commentary in ruling party organ the Rodong Sinmun said on Saturday, referring to recent protests in the Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures where the two units are set to be deployed.
The DPRK posed no threat to Japan, the commentary added, saying that the “Abe group had better cool down its head heated up with the wild ambition for a military giant and keep its step with the regional trend oriented to peace, though belatedly.”
Rare direct criticism of the United States was also included, too, describing the move as “obviously just another” part of plans by Washington to expand its own missile defense umbrella in the region.
It also pointed to the high cost of the purchase and repeated apparent demands from locals in Japan for the “plan to be reconsidered in light of changing North Korea-U.S. relations.”
This follows months of near-daily commentaries attacking the Abe government.
One commentary from July 23 in the Pyongyang Times simply titled “Ridiculous” raised a number of grievances directed at Japanese military plans, describing them as an attempt to “intensify surveillance of the DPRK as it schemes to take part in the US-led trans-Pacific joint military exercises and increase next year’s defence spending to the record high level.”
Regarding Abe’s support for U.S. denuclearization “report, verification and inspection” plan (referring to CVID or FFVD), it said “the so-called forcible inspection can never work on the DPRK since it is a gangster-like logic which was put up in the 1990s by hostile forces to end in failure.”
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA