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Colin Zwirko is an NK News correspondent based in Seoul.
Japan has selected U.S. company Lockheed Martin to provide radar systems for its planned Aegis Ashore ballistic missile defense (BMD) project, Reuters reported Tuesday.
With the purchase, Lockheed will reportedly provide Japan with its Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR) systems to improve coverage of the Korean peninsula.
Japan selected Lockheed, which already produces the Aegis Ashore BMD, over Raytheon’s SPY-6 radar.
The move comes after reports surfaced over the weekend that Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force (SDF) was recalling naval Aegis-equipped destroyers and relaxing its alert level for North Korean missile launches.
But yesterday’s revelations suggest Japan’s plan to station the land-based systems in two west-coast prefectures by 2023 is back on track.
North Korean state-run media has published articles over the past week condemning the plans, following visits by Japanese defense minister Itsunori Onodera to Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures on June 22 to shore up support for the long-term plans.
Two commentaries published on June 26 and 27 criticized Onodera’s activities and the country’s Aegis systems plans as a challenge to its ongoing negotiations with the U.S. and South Korea.
One, originally published in the Minju Joson, said: “such arms buildup and military confrontation moves as deployment of Aegis Ashore go to prove that Japan does not want peace but escalation of tension.”
While there is some domestic opposition to the plans in Japan following North Korea’s stated plans to halt missile tests this year, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government is continuing to prioritize military improvements in talks with the U.S.
U.S. Secretary of Defense James Mattis affirmed the plans to purchase the U.S.-developed missile defense systems during meetings last week in Tokyo with Prime Minister Abe and defense minister Onodera.
Mattis told the press following his meetings with Onodera he was “encouraged by our joint efforts to improve the foreign military sales process for Japan, while ensuring our cutting-edge technologies… remain protected.”
In a Reuters report the same day revealing Tokyo planned to announce a contract for the radar systems with either Lockheed or Raytheon sometime the following week, a Japanese government official was quoted as saying “Aegis will be a big-ticket purchase; it will be a nice gift for President Trump.”
Besides U.S.-Japan joint military efforts against missile threats from North Korea, the two sides continue to emphasize their lockstep position over the issue of Japanese abductees thought to still be in the DPRK.
“We also recognize the importance of the Japanese abductee issue, something President Trump raised at the last summit, and a humanitarian issue always present in our deliberations,” Mattis said following talks with Onodera.
For his part, Prime Minister Abe said the two had “agreed that we will cooperate to bring about the early resolution of the abductions issue, an extremely important matter for Japan.”
Mattis was given a blue ribbon badge that signifies support for the missing abductees and wore it during his meeting with Abe, which the Japanese Prime Minister said made him “again feel very keenly the strong bonds of friendship in the Japan-U.S. alliance.”
With anti-Japanese commentaries appearing almost daily in North Korean state-run Rodong Sinmun, a July 4 article again criticized Abe over the abductee issue, which it said in a separate article last week had “already been settled completely in 2002” during then-Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi’s visit to Pyongyang.
But with Pompeo visiting Tokyo on Saturday, it is likely that Japan will expect delivery of assurances on the matter.
The Japanese government first approved around USD$900 million to purchase two Aegis Ashore BMD systems last December after Prime Minister Abe requested the system in response to the then-growing missile threat from North Korea.
The Aegis Ashore BMD, according to Lockheed Martin, “is built on operationally validated sea-based Aegis BMD technology” and includes radar and anti-ballistic missile launch capabilities.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA