A ruling party committee on Friday approved a proposal for Japan to acquire capabilities to halt ballistic missile attacks within enemy territory, bringing the pacifist nation a step closer to acquiring weapons able to strike North Korea.
Giving long range munitions to Japan's Self Defense Forces is a controversial issue for a country that renounced the right to wage war after its defeat in World War II. The proposal could also anger China and Russia, which could fall within range of any new strike weapons.
"Our country needs to consider ways to strengthen deterrence, including having the capability to halt ballistic missile attacks within the territory of our adversaries," the proposal document said.
The proposals, crafted by senior Liberal Democratic Party lawmakers including former Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, will be presented to Prime Minister Shinzo Abe as early as next week.
The proposal "is to stay within the bounds of the Constitution and to comply with international law, that has not changed," Onodera said at a briefing following policy committee meeting.
The recommendations will be discussed by the National Security Council, which is expected to finalize new defense policies by the end of September.
Abe has pushed for a more muscular military, arguing Japan needs to respond to a deteriorating security environment in East Asia as North Korea builds missiles and nuclear weapons, China builds a modern, powerful military and Russian forces re-engage in the region.
A strike option is attractive because it is much easier to hit missiles on launch pads than warheads in travel at several times the speed of sound. Finding mobile launchers to hit, however, require close surveillance with satellites that Japan does not currently possess, meaning it would have to rely on help from ally the United States.
The Defense Ministry could decide on equipment purchases by the end of the year, government officials told Reuters.
The ruling party deliberations were prompted by Defense Minister Kono Taro's decision in June to cancel two planned Aegis Ashore sites designed to track and target incoming ballistic missiles from North Korea, citing a risk posed to nearby residents from falling booster rockets and rising costs.
The LDP document included a recommendation that Japan consider how to acquire a defense radar system on a par with Lockheed Martin's Aegis Ashore system that could also track other threats such as drones and cruise missiles.
Among proposals being considered by officials is locating the Aegis Ashore at other ground sites, or putting the new powerful radar on ships.
"The government will make a decision regarding this by the end of September and our thinking will be reflected in that," Onodera said.
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