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The Defense Ministry has been providing U.S. forces with intelligence from the Air Self-Defense Force’s early warning radar network since late April, sources said Saturday.

The ministry is aiming to boost Japan’s air defense capabilities not only against North Korea but also China by combining the ASDF radar network with the U.S. military’s advanced spy satellite system.

The move came before the two countries agreed to step up information-sharing in support of their missile defense at a top security meeting of defense and foreign ministers in Washington on May 1, thus underlining the accelerating operational integration of Japanese and U.S. forces.

The ASDF system, known as the Base Air Defense Ground Environment, integrates information gathered by 28 radar sites across the country, as well as fighter squadrons and other air units, with the Air Defense Command in Tokyo serving as its core.

Intelligence gathered by BADGE has been provided to U.S. forces in the past on a temporary basis when conducting joint drills.

The sources said the ministry began full-fledged provision of information from late April by permanently linking the BADGE network with the headquarters of the U.S. 5th Air Force at Yokota Air Base in Tokyo.

The United States had repeatedly asked Japan to share intelligence from the BADGE network, but Japan had been reluctant to do so because it wanted to secure the independence of the Self-Defense Forces.

Furthermore, the operational division to independently gather and manage information that existed between the ASDF and the Maritime Self-Defense Force, which mainly operates the missile defense system, technically hindered the U.S request.

The operational environment changed in March 2006, however, when the SDF established the Joint Staff Office to integrate air, ground and maritime forces so they could work together to deal with various contingencies such as terrorist attacks and natural disasters.

Against this backdrop, the ministry decided to share information from BADGE with U.S. forces to prevent a “loophole” in air defense information created by a lack of cooperation between the SDF and the U.S. Air Force, the sources said.

In return, Japan will be able to share information on North Korea’s ballistic missiles that the U.S. has gathered from its advanced spy satellites and patrol aircraft, the sources said.

The ministry has refused to confirm that air defense information is being shared because it is an intelligence matter.

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