The Defense Ministry has launched a full-fledged study on introducing a state-of-the-art U.S. missile defense system to guard against ballistic missiles from North Korea, it was learned Thursday.
The ministry is aiming to deploy the ground-based Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system under its next five-year defense buildup program, starting in fiscal 2019, informed sources said.
After a meeting with senior officials of the U.S. Pacific Command in Hawaii late last month, Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani told reporters: “Introducing the THAAD system could be one of concrete measures to boost Japan’s missile defense capabilities. We’ll accelerate our study on Japan’s future defense system.”
Japan currently has a two-stage ballistic missile defense strategy that calls for first trying to destroy a missile in space with Standard-Missile 3, or SM-3, interceptors launched from an Aegis destroyer and, in case the SM-3 misses the target, intercepting it within the atmosphere with the Patriot Advance Capability-3, or PAC-3, surface-to-air missile system from ground bases.
The THAAD system is designed to shoot down a missile with higher accuracy than PAC-3 when it reenters the atmosphere.
In recent years, North Korea has been speeding up the development of medium- and long-range ballistic missiles and smaller nuclear warheads.
The Defense Ministry is also considering deploying the Aegis-based SM-3 system on the ground, the sources said.
The ministry has already asked Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Ltd. to conduct research on how to operate the THAAD system and ground-based SM-3 interceptors.
But high costs are a major hurdle to introducing the new missile defense strategy. In addition, China could raise its opposition by saying that the Japanese move could destroy the regional balance in terms of missile defense posture, the sources said.