The Defense Ministry has launched a full-fledged study into adopting the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile system developed by the United States.
The ministry plans to set up a team for discussions on THAAD that will be headed by Deputy Defense Minister Kenji Wakamiya, sources said. The panel’s aim is to draw up specific measures by next summer to strengthen Japan’s missile defense system.
The ministry had considered the possibility of deploying THAAD under the next medium-term defense buildup program from fiscal 2019 to 2023.
But after more than 20 ballistic missile tests by the North this year, as well as the steady progress it has made in its quest to miniaturize nuclear warheads, the ministry is now aiming to introduce the ground-based system earlier, the sources said.
Japan’s current two-tier missile defense system calls for first trying to shoot down a missile in space with SM-3 (Standard-Missile 3) interceptors mounted on Aegis destroyers and, in the event that fails, destroying it at an altitude of less than 20 km using the PAC-3 (Patriot Advanced Capability-3) surface-to-air missile system.
THAAD would be able to intercept a missile re-entering the atmosphere at a higher altitude than the PAC-3 can.
The United States has decided to deploy the THAAD system at a military base in South Korea. If Japan introduces the system, that would enable effective THAAD operations and information-sharing to be conducted among the three allies, the sources said.
The Defense Ministry also plans to introduce a ground-based missile defense system known as Aegis Ashore.
Both systems face hurdles as each will cost hundreds of billions of yen and require public approval to adopt, the sources said.
“It will not be easy to secure related budgets,” a senior ministry official said.
Adoption of either system is also likely draw a backlash from China, the sources said.
Beijing has angrily denounced Washington’s plan to deploy THAAD in South Korea as a serious threat to the region’s geopolitical balance.
In a separate move, Japan and Britain have reached the final stage of talks on an agreement that would allow their armed forces to provide logistical support to each other, a Japanese government source has said.
The so-called Acquisition and Cross-Servicing Agreement could be signed in January, as the two countries look to hold a meeting of their foreign and defense ministers in London, the source said Saturday.
Any deal would pave the way for the Self-Defense Forces to provide ammunition to British forces in line with new Japanese security laws that expanded the SDF’s defensive role.
It would also enable the two countries’ armed forces to share supplies during United Nations peacekeeping missions, international relief operations and joint exercises.