Tokyo and Washington are mulling the installation of an X-band radar system at an Air Self-Defense Force base in Kyoto Prefecture to build up Japan’s missile defense system and counter the North Korean ballistic missile threat, sources close to bilateral ties revealed Saturday.
The Kyogamisaki base in Kyotango, on the Sea of Japan coast, has been selected as the best site to deploy the radar unit because a North Korean missile targeting Guam or Hawaii, strategically key strongholds for the U.S. military, would likely pass over western or central Japan, the sources said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and U.S. President Barack Obama confirmed during their summit meeting in Washington on Friday that they will work together on installing the large-scale American radar system at the Kyogamisaki facility.
The U.S. military uses X-band radar to precisely track the trajectory of a ballistic missile, allowing its forces to launch ground- and sea-based interceptors as soon as a threat is detected. In the case of the system to be deployed at Kyogamisaki, information would be immediately reported to the Self-Defense Forces to enable its personnel to shoot down a missile heading toward Japan. The move, however, could spark a constitutional row.
If the SDF were to intercept a missile targeting the United States, its actions would infringe on Japan’s self-imposed ban on exercising the right to collective self-defense that prevents it from coming to the defense of an ally under armed attack. In light of the Constitution’s war-renouncing Article 9, the radar’s installation would be considered a highly sensitive issue.
The ASDF’s Shariki base in Tsugaru, northeastern Aomori Prefecture, is currently the only site in Japan that uses X-band radar.
While a ground-based, nonretractable radar is in operation at Kyogamisaki to enable the ASDF to remain on alert around the clock, Japan and the United States aim to deploy a mobile X-band radar to boost the base’s missile-tracking capabilities.
A senior Defense Ministry official said that by considering the plan, the government is attempting “to further strengthen bilateral ties by fulfilling its (various) roles as a U.S. ally.”
Tokyo also hopes the radar will help keep Beijing in check amid the territorial dispute over the Japan-administered Senkaku Islands in the East China Sea, according to the sources. China claims the islets as Diaoyu.