The Cabinet is set to approve a plan to build two new Aegis ships as a platform for missile interceptor systems among three options to replace the scrapped project to introduce a land-based system, government sources said Friday.
The plan designed to counter the North Korean missile threat is expected to be given the nod as early as mid-December so spending can be earmarked in the fiscal 2021 budget to be drafted by the end of the year.
After the decision in June to drop the plan to deploy the U.S.-developed Aegis Ashore system in northeastern and western Japan due to technical problems, ballooning costs and public opposition, the government has been looking at three offshore options as an alternative.
The other two options include one in which private sector ships could be fitted with the systems, and one involving installing them on offshore structures similar to oil rigs.
The Defense Ministry has been pushing for the construction of new Aegis ships, and defense policymakers from the ruling Liberal Democratic Party threw their support behind the plan earlier this week.
The new Aegis destroyers would increase the number of such ships of the Maritime Self-Defense Force to 10, by far the largest number of Aegis vessels outside the U.S. Navy. The larger fleet would enable Japan to dispatch more Aegis-equipped vessels to keep China’s assertiveness in the East China Sea in check.
But hefty costs remain an issue, leaving some LDP lawmakers opposed to the plan, and the Cabinet approval could be delayed, the sources said. A recent estimate showed two advanced Aegis destroyers would cost over ¥500 billion ($4.8 billion), ¥100 billion more than the previous plan, according to people familiar with the matter.
Another problem is the MSDF’s chronic manpower shortage, which was one of the reasons the government initially looked into the land-based missile interceptor system that was to be operated by the Ground Self-Defense Force.
The ministry is considering raising the retirement age to help allocate enough crew members to operate the ships.
The Cabinet plans to revise the country’s latest National Defense Program Guidelines and Medium Term Defense Program to reflect the new plan, the sources said.
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