AKITA – Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya apologized Monday to Akita Gov. Norihisa Satake for errors in the ministry’s geographical survey that was used to select the northeastern prefecture as a candidate for hosting a U.S.-developed missile defense system.
“I deeply apologize. I have instructed (officials) to be thorough in preventing a recurrence,” Iwaya told Satake at the prefectural government building.
The apology came a week after the Akita governor criticized the ministry’s erroneous survey in connection with the deployment of the land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system, saying, “We are back to square one on this issue.”
“I feel sad rather than disappointed,” Satake told Iwaya. “I would like the Defense Ministry to take this as setting out again from behind the starting line.”
Iwaya said the ministry will conduct an on-site survey and consider using experts to correct the figures after numerical mistakes were found in the elevation angles of mountains in the geographical survey calculated based on map data from Google Earth.
He also sought the governor’s understanding on the need to deploy the defense system, saying, “We believe Aegis Ashore is essential.”
The ministry, which intends to deploy two interceptor batteries to counter the threat of North Korean missiles, has listed a Ground Self-Defense Force training area straddling Abu and Hagi in Yamaguchi Prefecture and another exercise area in the Araya district of Akita Prefecture as potential sites for the systems.
Satake told reporters after the meeting that he cannot accept at this point the ministry’s explanation for its selection of the GSDF area in Akita as a potential site.
The ministry has said the incorrect information was released after elevation angles of mountains were calculated based on figures measured by a ruler without noticing that the scales of maps used for checking height and distance were different.
In the geographical survey released in May, it checked the elevation angles at nine out of 19 candidate locations in the Tohoku region for possible deployment.
But angles for all of the nine locations came out steeper than the actual ones. Areas close to high mountains that block radio waves emitted by radar are said to be undesirable for the missile system.
In the meeting with Iwaya, Satake expressed concern that the Araya district might have already been decided as a candidate site before the survey was conducted.
Iwaya said during the meeting that the ministry was arranging to defer the booking of expenses related to the deployment, including for site preparation work, in its budgetary requests for the next fiscal year starting April. Budgetary requests are set to be submitted by ministries and agencies to the Finance Ministry in late August.
Later the same day Akita Mayor Motomu Hozumi said it would likely take two or three years for the city to make a decision on whether to approve the Aegis Ashore deployment.
In addition to the erroneous survey, an official at the ministry was caught nodding off when local residents were briefed earlier this month about the numerical mistakes, prompting some participants to demand an apology.