• Kyodo

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Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera on Friday sought to win local consent to deploy a U.S.-developed land-based missile shield, amid questions over the necessity of such a system as tensions ease on the Korean Peninsula.

The government is pushing a plan to install the costly Aegis Ashore system in Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures to strengthen Japan’s defenses against potential threats from North Korean nuclear arms or missiles, with a view to the system possibly becoming operable by fiscal 2023.

But many residents around possible deployment sites have voiced concerns that the system’s radar, which emits strong radio waves, could be harmful to human health. Some people have also questioned the need for such a system amid the ongoing detente on the Korean Peninsula following the first-ever summit between a sitting U.S. president and North Korean leader earlier this month.

In a bid to win support to install the Aegis Ashore system, Onodera visited Yamaguchi Prefecture on Friday.

In Yamaguchi, Onodera told Gov. Tsugumasa Muraoka, “While North Korea has several hundred ballistic missiles that can hit Japan and quite a few nuclear warheads, there have been no concrete moves to abandon them. The threat we are facing has not changed.”

“We will explain over and over again to dispel the concerns of local people,” Onodera added.

Muraoka told Onodera that he wants to hear clearly the reasons why his prefecture was selected as a candidate site.

Onodera was set to travel to Akita Prefecture later in the day to convey similar views.

Aegis Ashore can also be used to defend against possible attacks by cruise missiles, not just ballistic missiles, Onodera noted earlier in the day.

Japan already has two tiers of missile defenses: the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Aegis destroyers, equipped with Standard Missile-3 interceptors, and the Air Self-Defense Force’s ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors.

But the government decided in December to introduce Aegis Ashore, believing that a system installed at a stationary site would reduce the workload for the Self-Defense Forces when they prepare for missile intercepts, compared to the sea-based operations of Aegis destroyers.

The decision was made at a time when the nation felt an increasing need to reinforce its missile shields. Last year North Korea detonated its most powerful nuclear weapon to date and test-fired about 20 ballistic missiles, two of which flew over Japan’s territory.

The government hopes to put the Aegis Ashore batteries at the Ground Self-Defense Force’s training area in Akita’s Araya district and at the GSDF’s Mutsumi training area in Hagi in Yamaguchi Prefecture. Two units are believed to be sufficient to cover Japan’s entire territory.

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