The government is looking into alternatives to the Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system after its deployment plan was halted last week, officials have said.
The government is examining multiple ideas, including installing the system aboard a megafloat, a huge floating structure that can be used as an offshore base, and deployment of the system on Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers, according to the officials.
The Defense Ministry and the National Security Council are said to be weighing these ideas so the government can reach a conclusion on an alternative to the current Aegis Ashore deployment plan this summer.
“This is a suspension without an alternative,” a senior government official said, admitting that the decision has created a hole in the country’s air defenses.
The ministry has set up a special team to discuss the issue by bringing together specialists on Aegis Ashore and senior officials of the Defense Policy and Defense Buildup Planning bureaus.
The team will draw up a proposal that will serve as the basis of discussions at the NSC.
Use of a megafloat would remove worries about the possibility of interceptor missile rocket boosters falling onto residential areas, a fear that was one factor in the suspension of the Aegis Ashore plan.
But the option has its own problems. A megafloat is extremely vulnerable to attacks, such as those by terrorists, because deploying enough guards to protect it would prove difficult.
Defense Minister Taro Kono has mentioned the possibility of mounting Aegis equipment on MSDF destroyers, but the navy’s fleet suffers from chronic manpower shortages.
Before adopting the Aegis Ashore plan, the government had considered whether to introduce the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) mobile ground-based missile defense system.
But the THAAD system would not solve the problem of falling rocket boosters.
In addition, Japan would need at least six units to cover the entire country, while Aegis Ashore required just two units. It would be difficult to secure that many locations for THAAD, which would likely draw opposition from local communities as Aegis Ashore did.
The introduction of Aegis Ashore was “decided too hastily,” a senior ministry official said. “Our technical verification was insufficient.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has expressed his desire to formulate a basic stance on the matter based on the discussions expected through summer. However, the Defense Ministry hopes to hold thorough talks instead of drawing a quick conclusion, officials said.
Meanwhile, the government is poised to abandon the plan to deploy the Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system, officials said Sunday.
Japan’s National Security Council will make an official decision to withdraw the plan to deploy the system in Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures in the near future, the sources said.
Following Kono’s announcement last week on the halt to the Aegis Ashore deployment plan, a U.S. defense official expressed the view that Kono had not said the plan would be abandoned, suggesting a readiness to continue discussions with Japan on the Aegis Ashore deployment.
Japan is expected to face difficulties in relation to the move, as it needs to keep in step with the United States in order to deal with the growing threat from North Korean ballistic missiles.