The government on Friday formally approved a plan to start joint research with the United States on Washington’s theater missile defense program in fiscal 1999.

The thumbs-up on the project was given during an evening meeting of the Security Council of Japan — the nation’s top decision-making body on defense policies, which is made up of relevant Cabinet ministers.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Hiromu Nonaka released a statement later in the day that said ballistic missile defense capabilities are necessary for Japan, which is constitutionally bound to adhere to a strictly defensive national security policy.

The Diet adopted a resolution in 1969 that restricts the use of space to peaceful purposes, and Nonaka maintained in the statement that the day’s decision is in line with the spirit of this resolution, citing that TMD systems are purely defensive and are the only thing capable of protecting the lives and property of the Japanese people from ballistic missiles.

TMD systems, if developed, would intercept ballistic missiles by firing counter-missiles from sea and land that are guided by space-borne reconnaissance satellites.

Japan will be mainly involved in the study of the sea-based Navy Theater Wide Defense system, one of four systems that make up the TMD project.

Defense Agency chief Hosei Norota told the press that the agency would spend a total of 20-30 billion yen on joint research for a period of five to six years beginning fiscal 1999.

An appropriation of 960 million yen has been made for joint research on the project in the budget proposal for fiscal 1999, which starts April 1.

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