Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Tuesday that Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures are candidate sites for installations of the Aegis Ashore anti-ballistic missile defense system, naming specific prefectures for the first time.
On Monday regional bureaus of the Defense Ministry contacted the two prefectural governments, asking them each for an opportunity to discuss the possibility of setting up installations related to the ground-based missile interceptor system in the prefectures, Onodera said during a news conference at the ministry.
“We are currently in the final process of researching and considering” candidate sites, he said.
Deploying a major weapon system can be a politically sensitive issue for local politicians, and this was seen to be reason the ministry contacted the two prefectural governments.
Tokyo plans to further boost its defense shield by installing the Aegis Ashore system in two locations by 2023 at the earliest.
The Maritime Self-Defense Force currently operates several Aegis destroyers capable of shooting down ballistic missiles during flight at a high altitude. Patriot PAC-3 batteries operated by the Ground Self-Defense Force would intercept any that survived the first line of defense.
The Defense Ministry has said that the land-based Aegis Ashore systems would ease the burden on Maritime Self-Defense Force personnel aboard the Aegis destroyers, and are effective in countering the ballistic missile threat posed by North Korea.
The two ground-based Aegis installations are said to have a sufficient range to defend all of Japan’s main islands.
In the defense budget for fiscal 2018, the government allocated ¥700 million to survey potential sites and design a deployment plan for Aegis Ashore.
The Defense Ministry has highlighted that the Aegis Ashore system would be effective in countering the rising missile and nuclear threats posed by North Korea.
However, Akita Gov. Norihisa Satake told a news conference Monday that the necessity of Aegis Ashore may come into doubt if Pyongyang becomes less of a threat through a series of planned diplomatic events, such as the planned summit on June 12 between United States President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“If the threat becomes weaker, then the precondition would no longer be valid,” Satake said.
Aegis Ashore, a U.S.-made land-based version of the Aegis combat system developed for warships, is comprised of missiles together with radar and computer equipment.
According to the ministry acquiring Aegis Ashore would protect the entire country, from Hokkaido to Okinawa Prefecture. But the deployment could trigger concern among residents living nearby as the system’s radar equipment emits strong radio waves, and is perceived as increasing the risk of being targeted in an attack.