The Defense Agency will improve its missile surveillance network by deploying four new radar units and upgrading seven others by fiscal 2009 to detect ballistic missile launches in North Korea, agency officials said Saturday.

The upgrades involve the EPS-3 radar system deployed at seven locations. The four new units will feature the newly developed EPS-XX system. Both types are designed to detect and track ballistic missiles flying at around Mach 10 at an altitude of more than 300 km, the officials said.

The seven units using the EPS-3 system are currently deployed in Hokkaido, Akita, Fukushima, Ishikawa, Kyoto, Mie and Saga prefectures. They will be upgraded over three years starting in fiscal 2006 into versions capable of tracking more than one missile at a time, they said.

The EPS-XX, now undergoing trial operations, will be set up over four years, starting next fiscal year, at Air Self-Defense Force radar sites in Kagoshima, Niigata, Aomori and Okinawa prefectures, the officials said.

The Defense Agency says many of the new radar units will be deployed along the Sea of Japan “given the degree of the threat of ballistic missile attack” in that region — an acknowledgment that the upgrade is designed to cope with North Korean missiles.

These new ground-based radar systems, coupled with radar on Aegis-equipped destroyers of the Maritime Self-Defense Force to be deployed in the Sea of Japan, are expected to enable the nation to quickly detect oncoming ballistic missiles and accurately calculate their projected impact point, according to the agency.

Japan began a project to set up a missile defense system after North Korea fired a long-range missile in August 1998 that flew over Japan into the Pacific. North Korea said it was a rocket intended to put a satellite into orbit.

Tanks on the road

KUSHIRO, Hokkaido (Kyodo) A Ground Self-Defense Force unit based in Obihiro, Hokkaido, is expected to drive tanks on public roads Monday to attend a ceremony at a garrison 40 km away, GSDF officials said Saturday.

The GSDF 5th Brigade will drive eight tanks from the town of Shikaoi to the GSDF Obihiro Garrison, the venue for the ceremony marking the first anniversary of the brigade’s foundation, brigade officials said.

The treads will be covered with rubber to protect road surfaces. The operation will take place between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m. to minimize traffic disruptions, the officials said.

The tanks will be used for a parade and display. They will also be test-driven.

Tanks are normally transported on special trailers but the brigade was not able to secure them in time for the ceremony, the officials said.

A GSDF official said the operation does not pose any legal problems. But the Tokachi chapter of the group Peace Forum, based in Obihiro, said it will protest the move.

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