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Japan eyes two new Aegis destroyers to counter N. Korea missile threat

Kyodo

The Defense Ministry will likely purchase two new Aegis-equipped destroyers to raise Japan’s fleet of the vessels to eight in light of the mounting North Korean missile threat, a ministry source revealed Saturday.

The government plans to unveil its policy for bolstering the country’s missile defense shield after drawing up fresh national defense guidelines by the end of the year, the source said.

The Maritime Self-Defense Force currently deploys four Aegis destroyers capable of shooting down ballistic missiles with Standard Missile-3 interceptors. It is renovating another two of the vessels, which will enter service by fiscal 2018.

The ministry is expected to sign a contract to buy an additional pair of Aegis destroyers, one in fiscal 2015 and the other in fiscal 2016, the source said. The vessels will likely be deployed by fiscal 2020.

As North Korea readied for a satellite rocket launch this spring that was widely interpreted as a guise to test ballistic missile technologies, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on April 7 ordered the Self-Defense Forces to prepare to shoot down any of Pyongyang’s missiles if they were headed toward the Japanese archipelago.

The MSDF dispatched two destroyers equipped with SM-3 missiles to the Sea of Japan, while the Air Self-Defense Force deployed ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors at strategic points.

The Defense Ministry scaled back the deployment in early May, after North Korea reportedly removed two Musudan intermediate-range ballistic missiles from a launch site. Onodera ordered the interceptors be completely withdrawn June 28.