The United States may deploy a ship equipped with the advanced Aegis defense system and interceptor missiles at a U.S. naval base in Japan by next year, according to Japanese government sources.
The move would be aimed at protecting Japan and U.S. forces here from a potential attack involving North Korea’s Nodong ballistic missiles, according to the sources.
Apart from deploying interceptor missiles on the U.S. mainland, Washington plans to equip three Aegis warships with Standard Missile-3 interceptor missiles between 2004 and 2005 to deter threats against the U.S. and its allies, the sources said.
One of the three Aegis vessels is expected to be part of the U.S. Navy’s Seventh Fleet and would use Yokosuka, Kanagawa Prefecture, as its de facto home port.
Navy Rear Adm. Robert Chaplin, commander of the U.S. naval forces in Japan, told a news conference in Yokosuka on Aug. 26 that the navy may bring a vessel featuring a new defense system to Japan.
During recent multilateral talks in Beijing focusing on North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, the U.S. affirmed its solidarity with Japan and South Korea on the matter.
As the planned forward deployment of the U.S. vessel is thought to be aimed at cranking up the pressure on North Korea, the sources added, it is possible that Pyongyang may react sharply.
Should an Aegis-equipped U.S. vessel be deployed here in 2004, Japan would effectively be placed under a U.S. missile defense shield before Tokyo deploys its own missile defense system, the initial stage of which is expected to be ready in 2007.
On Friday, the Defense Agency asked the Finance Ministry for about 142 billion yen in the fiscal 2004 budget to prepare for the launch of the missile defense system.
By fiscal 2010, the agency wants to complete its missile defense system, comprising four Aegis-equipped destroyers and four Patriot Advanced Capability-3 antimissile groups.
These steps are designed to create a two-tier missile defense system for Japan, combining a sea-based missile shield to counter short-to-medium range ballistic missiles and a ground-based system to shoot down missiles that get past the first shield.