The government plans to continue discussions on whether to acquire strike capabilities against foreign bases without setting a deadline for a decision, official sources said Thursday.
The administration of Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga and the ruling bloc are still far from reaching an agreement, with the Liberal Democratic Party’s junior coalition partner Komeito reluctant to expand the Self-Defense Forces’ role under the country’s pacifist Constitution.
The Cabinet is expected to approve a plan next week to build two new naval vessels equipped with Aegis missile interceptors, as an alternative to a land-based system, to defend against the threat of North Korean ballistic missiles.
The plan will include a reference to ongoing discussions on “strengthening deterrence” without specifically mentioning the acquisition of strike capabilities, the sources said.
There has been a debate as to whether acquiring strike capabilities for the country could run counter to its war-renouncing Constitution and exclusively defense-oriented policy.
A previous plan to introduce the U.S.-developed Aegis Ashore missile defense system at two locations in northeastern and western Japan was scrapped in June due to technical problems, swelling costs and local opposition.
Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe, had said shortly before leaving office in September that the government would “set an appropriate path” for an alternative by the end of the year while also looking for new ways to make the nation less vulnerable to missile attacks.
But Komeito, which is backed by the lay-Buddhist organization Soka Gakkai, remains concerned that announcing the acquisition of strike capabilities against foreign bases would hurt its chances in the next election for the House of Representatives, which is set to be held by the fall of 2021.
According to the sources, the plan for the Aegis-equipped vessels will also include the development of surface-to-ship missiles with an extended range that can attack targets from beyond the range of enemy missiles.
Opposition lawmakers have voiced concerns that the so-called standoff missiles would give the SDF de facto strike capabilities against foreign bases.
But the government’s top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato, denied Wednesday that the development of such weapons was aimed at acquiring strike capabilities, saying they are intended to allow SDF troops to deal with threats from a safe distance.
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