National / Politics

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera hopes to strengthen Japan’s planned Aegis Ashore missile defense system

Kyodo

Following an inspection of a Hawaiian test complex, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Wednesday that Japan hopes to bolster the capability of the Aegis Ashore missile defense system that it plans to introduce in fiscal 2023.

“We would like to develop (the system) into a basic infrastructure that will be helpful in comprehensive missile defense and can (intercept) cruise and other kinds of missiles,” he told reporters after visiting the facility on the island of Kauai.

The Japanese government is looking to strengthen its missile defense system amid the growing North Korean threat. Onodera’s remarks on cruise missiles apparently reflected Tokyo’s wariness over China, which possesses many long-range cruise missiles.

The government set aside around ¥700 million ($6.3 million) in the next fiscal year’s budget plan for the early introduction of Aegis Ashore, for design costs and research fees.

Onodera agreed with Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, to closely cooperate toward an early introduction of the U.S.-developed system in Japan.

Japan’s defense chief said he did not discuss expenses for introducing Aegis Ashore in detail with Greaves, but sensed an effort from the U.S. to reduce costs.

He also said he was told Aegis Ashore has no negative impact on people or communication devices nearby. The test complex is located at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai.

The new system will add to Japan’s current two tiers of missile defense — Aegis destroyers equipped with Standard Missile-3 interceptors, and ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors.

Two Aegis Ashore batteries are expected to be enough to cover Japan’s entire territory, each with a price tag of around ¥100 billion, according to ministry officials.

Tokyo says a system installed at a stationary site will reduce the workload of the Self-Defense Forces in preparing for missile intercepts, compared to the sea-based operations of destroyers that need to return to port for refueling and other purposes.