The Defense Ministry has scrapped its plan to deploy the Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system in a Self-Defense Force compound in the city of Akita, government officials said Wednesday.
Faced with strong opposition from local residents, the ministry will choose from other places listed as possible sites, mainly state-owned land within Akita Prefecture, the officials added.
The government had hoped to introduce the U.S.-developed system to a Ground Self-Defense Force training area in Akita’s Araya district by 2025, but may have to push back that plan as it looks at other candidate sites in the prefecture.
The Aegis Ashore will supplement the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Aegis-equipped destroyers in protecting Japan from North Korean ballistic missiles.
The government decided in 2017 to deploy two batteries to counter the threat of North Korean missiles, with one in Akita Prefecture and another in the GSDF’s Mutsumi training area straddling Hagi and Abu in Yamaguchi Prefecture as candidate sites.
Together, the Aegis batteries are expected to start operation in 2025 at the earliest.
But the plan is unpopular with local residents concerned about the health effects of electromagnetic waves emitted by the Aegis Ashore’s radar, as well as the possibility that they could become a target in an armed conflict.
Local sentiment further soured after a geographical survey used by the Defense Ministry as the basis for picking the sites was found to contain numerical errors.
A senior Defense Ministry official said it had effectively become “impossible” to go through with the Aegis Ashore’s deployment in Araya after the local mayor, governor, assembly and ruling party chapter all voiced their opposition.
The government remains set on bringing the system to some other part of Akita Prefecture, with government source calling the deployment there crucial to its ability to cover the whole of Japan. “Without that, the whole plan falls apart.”
The current candidate sites are nine swathes of state-owned land spread across the cities of Noshiro, Yurihonjo, Nikaho and Oga.
They are among the sites where the ministry is redoing the geographical survey, the results of which were slated to be compiled by March 20 but have been pushed back to the end of May due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Any new location chosen is likely to bring about the same concerns voiced by local residents in Araya, which could further push the system’s deployment off schedule.
Opposition to the deployment in Yamaguchi Prefecture may also intensify after the ministry gave up the Akita plan.