Long-range missile quest off defense buildup plan

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The government will not begin controversial research into long-range precision missile technology, according to the fiscal 2005-2009 midterm defense buildup plan handed to the ruling bloc Thursday.

The plan was to be approved Friday by the Cabinet together with the new National Defense Program Outline.

The Defense Agency had included the item in an earlier version of the buildup plan, arguing that such technology was necessary to defend Japan’s remote islands.

Agency officials claimed the research would be for surface-to-surface missiles with a maximum range of 300 km that would be used to repel any invading forces. The technology, however, could be used for longer-range missiles that, as was widely reported last week, would also be capable of striking targets overseas.

New Komeito, the junior partner of the Liberal Democratic Party-led ruling coalition, was cool toward pursuing such technology due to its offense capabilities, which would run counter to both Japan’s postwar defense-only security policy and the pacifist ideology of the New Komeito’s main support base, lay Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai.

Some opponents meanwhile noted that the agency’s 300-km-range scenario meant Japan could be considering the possibility of firing on its own soil, if an area had been invaded.

“The research (proposal) was removed after the government re-examined it,” said Fukushiro Nukaga, an LDP politician who cochairs the ruling coalition’s security panel together with Masao Akamatsu of New Komeito.

Most LDP members on the panel support the research, he said.

The buildup plan, designed to upgrade Japan’s defense against missile and other threats, including terrorism, was approved by the ruling bloc at their meetings Thursday along with the new National Defense Program Outline.

The outline was finalized late Wednesday after the Defense Agency and Finance Ministry resolved a two-month-old dispute over future troop levels that had delayed the government’s adoption of the plan, which had initially been planned for late November.

After a series of ministerial-level negotiations, defense chief Yoshinori Ono and Finance Minister Sadakazu Tanigaki agreed to set the number of ground troops at 155,000, down 5,000 from the figure in the current defense outline.

The Finance Ministry, which wanted to sharply cut defense spending given the nation’s tight fiscal constraints, insisted on cutting the number of ground troops to 120,000 from 160,000.

The Defense Agency, for its part, requested 162,000, arguing that the figure was needed to properly execute the increasing disaster relief and international humanitarian missions as well as to guard against new threats, including terrorism.

Ono and Tanigaki also agreed to set the overall budget for the five-year buildup plan at 24.24 trillion yen, down 920 billion yen from the current plan.