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Aegis Ashore deployments in Japan scrapped, defense minister confirms

KYODO, JIJI, REUTERS

Japan has scrapped a plan to deploy Aegis Ashore, a land-based missile defense system that was touted for the protection it would provide from the North Korean nuclear weapon and missile threat, Defense Minister Taro Kono said Thursday.

“After deliberations at the (National Security Council), we have come to the decision to cancel the deployments in Yamaguchi and Akita prefectures,” Kono told a gathering of Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers.

The decision followed Kono’s abrupt announcement on June 15 that Japan had halted preparations to deploy two U.S.-made batteries of the missile system, citing technical problems and increasing costs amid strong local opposition.

At the LDP meeting, part of which was open to the media, Kono also said the Defense Ministry had found it difficult to select alternate sites.

In 2017, Japan had decided to deploy the Aegis Ashore batteries to boost the country’s defenses against North Korea’s nuclear weapon and missile programs.

While the nation will continue to defend itself via existing Maritime Self-Defense Force Aegis-equipped destroyers, Kono said it was a bad idea to rely solely on the ship-based system.

Bearing in mind Beijing and Pyongyang’s development of new ballistic missiles that are difficult to intercept, the minister said Japan had to “consider what we will do (to respond to such threats) over the medium to long term.”

Kono also said the existing MSDF destroyers and land-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 system — designed to shoot down missiles that evaded interceptors fired from the ships — would protect the nation “for the time being.”

The Aegis Ashore units were intended to supplement the MSDF destroyers, with one candidate site in Akita Prefecture and the other in Yamaguchi Prefecture, both near the Sea of Japan coast.

“I’m relieved that anxiety among local residents has faded,” Akita Gov. Norihisa Satake told reporters, adding that Kono told him by telephone in the morning that central government would not deploy Aegis Ashore units in the nation hereafter.

“But, I wonder what this two and a half years (since the Cabinet approval to deploy the batteries) were for,” Satake said.

Meanwhile, Yamaguchi Gov. Tsugumasa Muraoka told reporters he was “grateful” for the government’s “quick decision.”

Later in the day, Kono told reporters the government would continue to discuss defense needs with ruling parties and the United States, in addition to talks at the NSC.

Kono said acquiring weapons that would let Japan strike enemy missile bases was an option Japan will consider as a way to bolster its ballistic missile defenses.

On Wednesday the government started to review its national security policy following the decision to suspend the Aegis Ashore deployment plan.

The focal point of the review is said to be whether Japan should possess the ability to strike enemy bases, after Abe recently said that he wants to consider such a possibility as part of discussions on national security.

The review began at the day’s meeting between Abe as well as Kono and two other key Cabinet ministers that are members of the government’s National Security Council. Kono reported on the suspension of the deployment plan for the U.S.-made missile interceptors, which was followed by discussions on how the nation should prepare for dealing with threats from ballistic missiles.

Initially, the government had considered formally deciding to cancel the Aegis Ashore plan at the day’s NSC meeting, but it put off the decision as talks on the matter with the U.S. were still under way.

The government will hold intensive discussions through the summer, planning to consider the first revision of its strategy on national security that was compiled in 2013. The government also plans to modify its national defense guidelines and medium-term defense buildup program, both adopted in 2018.

Decisions from the discussions will be reflected in fiscal 2021 budget requests.

Abe told a news conference on Thursday last week that his administration would hold thorough discussions on national security at the NSC this summer to set a new strategy and implement it promptly.

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