• Kyodo, Jiji


The United States is in talks with Japan to address its concerns over the U.S.-made Aegis Ashore missile defense system, Missile Defense Agency Director Vice Adm. Jon Hill said Thursday, after Tokyo suspended plans to deploy the defense technology earlier this week.

The United States is “working very closely” with Japan to “resolve concerns and issues,” Hill said during a virtual defense conference.

David Helvey, acting assistant defense secretary for Indo-Pacific security affairs, said in a conference call: “We understand that the government of Japan is reviewing some technical aspects of the program to determine a more cost-effective alternative.”

“We want to maintain those communications with the government of Japan and work with them to find the right way forward to ensure that we’re continuing to work closely with them on missile defense,” Helvey said.

Japan “remains a model partner for us in missile defense,” he added.

The Japanese government decided in 2017 to deploy two land-based Aegis Ashore batteries to beef up the country’s defenses against the rapidly advancing North Korean nuclear and missile program.

They were to supplement the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Aegis destroyers, but Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono said Monday that the government will “halt the process,” citing technical and cost issues as well as safety concerns.

Kono has explained that the Defense Ministry found through talks with the United States that hardware modifications, which will likely be costly and time consuming, would be required to ensure the safety of nearby residents during missile interception operations.

Since Japan has no plan to look for alternative sites that would not pose risks to residents, the announced suspension is believed to be the equivalent of scrapping the plan altogether.

According to Kono, Japan and the United States have signed a contract worth around ¥180 billion ($1.7 billion) for the anti-missile system, of which ¥12 billion has already been paid by Japan. Future payments and penalty charges are likely to become an issue hereafter.

Aegis Ashore, a land-based version of the Aegis combat system developed for warships, is a collection of radars, computers and missiles. Japan was supposed to be the third country to introduce the system after Romania and Poland.

On the Japanese Air Self-Defense Force’s next-generation fighter to succeed the retiring F-2, Helvey said it is “a Japan-led initiative” while suggesting that the U.S. industry would possibly be able to play a role if joint development is conducted.

“These are decisions that the government of Japan needs to make, and as an ally, we are ready to support and work with them to develop an alliance capability,” he added.

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