TOKYO (Kyodo) – The Japanese government plans to expedite its probe into the feasibility of introducing a land-based Aegis missile defense system to deal with North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats, government sources said Friday.
The idea to add the “Aegis Ashore” system to Japan’s current multi-tier ballistic missile defenses is aimed at dealing with what Tokyo calls “a new level of threat” posed by North Korea. The deployment could take place in several years’ time, the sources said.
The government has also been considering the state-of-the-art Terminal High Altitude Area Defense missile shield system, but it decided to focus on the Aegis Ashore option which is less expensive than THAAD and has a broader defense range.
Still, the government has not given up on introducing THAAD, the same system South Korea allowed the United States to deploy on its territory, and will continue to consider it as an option.
According to the sources, THAAD costs about 125 billion yen ($1.1 billion) for each unit and Japan will need around six units to enable the system to protect the whole country. An Aegis Ashore unit costs about 80 billion yen and only two will be needed to cover the same area.
Under Japan’s current ballistic missile defense scheme, the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Aegis destroyers equipped with Standard Missile-3 interceptors are tasked with stopping missiles in the outer atmosphere.
If they fail, the Air Self-Defense Force’s Patriot Advanced Capability-3 surface-to-air guided interceptors are the next line of defense against missile attack.
Aegis Ashore uses the same components fitted to MSDF Aegis destroyers, but the system is land-based. It is also easier for the Self-Defense Forces to prepare for missile intercepts because the system will be permanently installed.
A large amount of land is required to host the system and the government is looking for candidate sites such as areas on the Sea of Japan coast, which is closer to North Korea, the sources said.
The move comes after the ruling Liberal Democratic Party proposed in March that the government consider developing the ability to strike enemy bases. The LDP also floated introducing a new missile shield system to protect against North Korea’s missile launches.
The proposal was based on the concern that Japan may not be able to sufficiently defend itself under the current missile defense system if North Korea simultaneously launches multiple ballistic missiles toward the country.
On March 6, North Korea test-launched four ballistic missiles which fell into the Sea of Japan around 300 to 350 kilometers east of Akita Prefecture in northeastern Japan.
According to the Defense Ministry, three of the missiles fell in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, which reaches some 200 nautical miles (370 km) from the Japanese coastline.