HONOLULU – Defense Minister Taro Kono on Monday visited a test complex of a U.S.-developed land-based missile defense system in Hawaii amid a stalemate over its introduction to Japan, with candidate sites angered by errors in government surveys used to select the locations.
Vice Adm. John Hill, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, explained the capability and safety of the radar used by the Aegis Ashore missile defense system to Kono at the Pacific Missile Range Facility on the Hawaiian island of Kauai.
“By utilizing the Aegis Ashore system, we’ll secure Japan against North Korean missiles,” Kono told reporters after observing the test site. “We want to deploy (the missile defense units) as soon as possible.”
Japan plans to deploy two Aegis missile defense batteries, but it has been reconsidering the deployment plan at a Ground Self-Defense Force training area in Akita Prefecture after drawing criticism last year for making numerical mistakes in a geographical survey based on Google Earth map data.
Similarly, an initial survey on a candidate site in Yamaguchi Prefecture contained numerical errors. But based on a new survey, the government has told local governments that another GSDF training site in the area remains the candidate for hosting the Aegis units.
The Aegis batteries are expected to start operation in fiscal 2025 at the earliest, two years later than the government’s initial plan.
Kono said the Akita site will be re-examined with a clean slate, while the Defense Ministry will cooperate with Yamaguchi Prefecture, which will examine the central government’s plan on its own.
Later in the day, Kono met with Adm. Phillip Davidson, commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, on the island of Oahu. The two discussed North Korea and the situation in the Middle East, as well as a plan to transfer U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma within Okinawa Prefecture, according to Japanese officials.
They also talked about the planned relocation of a U.S. field carrier landing practice from Iwo Jima in the Pacific, some 1,250 kilometers south of Tokyo, to Mage Island in Kagoshima Prefecture.
Kono is on a five-day trip to the United States from Sunday. He will hold talks with his U.S. counterpart Mark Esper in Washington on Tuesday.