A Patriot PAC-3 missile system, the first element of Japan’s planned missile shield, was deployed at the Air Self-Defense Force base in Iruma, Saitama Prefecture, early Friday, ASDF officials in Tokyo said.

The deployment at Iruma, which has been tasked with defending Tokyo, was moved up by about a year from originally planned after North Korea test-fired several ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan in July.

Ten trailers carrying the mobile antiballistic missile system, including a radar system, a fire-control system, an information coordination center and two launch platforms — entered the base at around 5:13 a.m.

The time was chosen to address security concerns, the Defense Ministry said. But about 30 antiwar activists reportedly protested as the trailers reached the main gate of the base.

Japan plans to create a two-layer defense system composed of two types of interceptor missiles developed by the United States.

One is the Standard Missile-3, which is to be deployed on Aegis-equipped destroyers. The missile is designed to hit a target missile at high altitude early in its flight.

The other is the Patriot PAC-3, which is designed to hit a missile during its descent if it pierces the SM-3 shield.

The ASDF plans to introduce 16 antimissile units armed with a combination of PAC3 and PAC2 missiles throughout the country by fiscal 2010.

The PAC-2 system is designed to hit incoming aircraft, not ballistic missiles. The PAC-3 is an updated version of PAC-2 with missile interception capability.

The first SM-3 system will be deployed in December, with plans to have four SM-3-equipped destroyers by fiscal 2010.

The Patriot PAC-3 system was first introduced by U.S. forces at Kadena Air Base in Okinawa in October.

Experts say the range of the PAC-3 is about 20 km, which means it will be used to cover only key strategic positions.

ASDF bases where the PAC-3 system will be deployed are Narashino, Chiba Prefecture; Takeyama, Kanagawa Prefecture; Kasumigaura, Ibaragi Prefecture; Aibano, Shiga Prefecture; Hakusan, Mie Prefecture; and Ashiya, Koradai and Tsuiki in Fukuoka Prefecture, according to the ASDF.

The cost of one PAC-3 unit is estimated at 15 billion yen.

The PAC-3 unit at Iruma is an upgraded model of the older PAC-2 system already being used by the ASDF.

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