• Kyodo

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The Japanese and U.S. governments have begun arranging for Japan to develop a rocket engine and the United States a warhead for the joint sea-based missile defense system, diplomatic sources said Tuesday.

The missile shield system is scheduled to reach the development phase in fiscal 2006.

The two countries will conclude a new pact on the project after Japan’s Security Council endorses the plan around the end of this year.

To fund the project to develop the enhanced Standard Missile-3 interceptor, the Defense Agency is expected to request billons of yen for fiscal 2006 in its annual budgetary request at the end of this month.

The U.S. has already completed preparations for moving into the development stage to mass produce and deploy the missile, and the development-sharing arrangement is expected to accelerate cooperation getting the overall missile defense system up and running.

The project involves four key components of the enhanced SM-3 system — the nose cone, infrared sensor, rocket engine and kinetic warhead.

Japan eased its ban on arms exports last December and exempted the export of missile defense-related arms components to the U.S. to allow the project to move into the development stage.

The two countries launched the joint missile defense project in 1999, after North Korea fired a long-range missile in August 1998 whose warhead flew over Japan into the Pacific. North Korea claims it was a rocket intended to put a satellite into orbit.

Under the system, Japan would intercept an incoming ballistic missile outside the atmosphere using the SM-3 missile, fired from an Aegis-equipped destroyer.

North Korea’s Nodong ballistic missile is believed to have a range of about 1,300 km, which would make it capable of targeting any part of Japan.

There is concern that stepping up Japan-U.S. cooperation on missile defense could antagonize North Korea and China at a time when the six-party talks on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons threat are set to resume next week.

China strongly protested when the U.S. Defense Department, in an annual report on Chinese military activities, noted that Beijing has sharply increased the number of its short-range missiles capable of hitting Taiwan and parts of Japan.

Beijing was also irked when Japan and the U.S. issued a statement in February citing Taiwan as a “common security objective” of the two countries. Japan-China relations have since gone downhill over other issues, including Tokyo’s approval of a contentious school history textbook and its bid for a permanent seat on the U.N. Security Council.

China is now engaged in large-scale joint war games with Russia, which some experts say are intended as a warning signal against Washington’s deeper security involvement in Northeast Asia.

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