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The United States has offered to provide Japan with up to 80 more Patriot interceptor missiles, sources said.

The Defense Agency plans to take up part of the offer in fiscal 2007 to accelerate the deployment of the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile defense system, the sources said Wednesday.

The deal comes a little more than a month after North Korea test-fired several types of missiles toward Japan, including a Taepodong-2, which is theoretically capable of hitting the U.S. The missiles landed harmlessly in the Sea of Japan.

The Defense Agency had planned to build PAC-3 interceptor missiles here under license in fiscal 2008 and fiscal 2009, but it is now poised to request 11.6 billion yen in the fiscal 2007 budget to procure them directly from the U.S. The agency has made the ballistic missile shield a priority and plans to request a record-high 219 billion yen from the fiscal 2007 budget to build it, agency sources said.

The sum includes 9.4 billion yen to upgrade two more EP-3 electronic surveillance planes for missile defense roles and 1.7 billion yen to develop aircraft-based infrared sensors to detect missiles, the sources said.

The U.S. Navy has eight destroyers equipped with the most advanced Aegis missile guidance system at Yokosuka, with most of them upgraded for missile defense duty.

Since the Defense Agency has already added 22.7 billion yen to its original missile defense estimates, the the additional PAC-3 missiles will jack up the cost ever further, they said.

The cost of each missile was not provided.

It is also seeking a supplementary budget for the current year to help deploy the interceptors as quickly as possible, the sources added.

The additional interceptors are expected to be deployed at the Air Self-Defense Force’s 1st Air Defense Missile Group in Saitama Prefecture, where its first PAC-3 is already slated to be deployed next March.

The U.S. offer was requested in a letter from Defense Agency Director General Fukushiro Nukaga to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in late July, the sources said.

The agency’s timetable for expanding the scope of the surface-to-air missile defense system in fiscal 2007 has been criticized as too slow to counter the threat from North Korea’s Rodong missiles, which can hit most of Japan.

But the danger posed by China, which was recently labeled a military threat by the Defense Agency and could easily hit any part of Japan with missiles, does not seem to be a factor in the missile shield rationale.

In its fiscal 2007 budget request, the agency planned to upgrade three EP-3 scout planes in fiscal 2007 but has increased that to five because the aircraft were successful in monitoring North Korea’s missile launches July 5, the agency sources said.

Other key components of the budget request will be 24.7 billion yen to jointly develop next-generation ship-based interceptors with the U.S. and 82.8 billion yen to install PAC-3 interceptors at the ASDF’s 2nd Air Defense Missile Group in Fukuoka Prefecture, they said.

To reinforce Japan’s missile defense capability, the U.S. Navy is scheduled to deploy the Aegis-equipped cruiser Shiloh this month to Yokosuka base in Kanagawa Prefecture.

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