The Defense Ministry will conduct full-fledged studies on new missile defense systems that would better equip Japan to intercept North Korean ballistic missiles, officials said.
The ministry has started consultations with the United States on introducing the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system and a ground-based version of the Standard Missile-3 interceptors mounted on Aegis destroyers, according to the officials.
Currently, the Self-Defense Forces employs a two-stage system to intercept ballistic missiles. In the first phase, Aegis ships launch SM-3 missiles to destroy in outer space a missile or its debris believed to be targeted at Japan. If that fails, the ground-based Patriot Advance Capability-3 surface-to-air missile system is used for interception.
The studies by the ministry will focus on missile interception between the two current stages.
THAAD, a new system that the United States is putting in place, is capable of intercepting ballistic missiles re-entering the atmosphere from outer space. In tests conducted 11 times between 2006 and 2013, all THAAD interceptors took out mock missiles. The U.S. forces are considering THAAD deployment to South Korea.
As for a ground-based SM-3 system, the U.S. military has been conducting tests as part of a missile defense shield in Europe. After a successful launch test in May, the United States plans to deploy the system to Romania in 2015.
That system has a high rapid response ability and is superior in maneuvering capability to the sea-based SM-3 because there is no need to deploy Aegis ships.
The ministry hopes to establish a four-stage anti-missile shield by incorporating the THAAD and ground-based SM-3 systems in the future.
In preparation for a full-scale introduction, the ministry will collect information from the United States on the expense, training of personnel and operational challenges that need to be addressed, the officials said. The ministry will include some of the related spending in its budget request for fiscal 2015.