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Commentary: Aegis Ashore not for Japan’s defense, meant to protect Hawaii, Guam

  • October 1, 2018
  • , AERA , pp. 66-67
  • JMH Translation

By military journalist Shunji Taoka


The Aegis Systems were originally developed for use on cruisers and destroyers protecting the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers from air attacks, but some of these ships have been remodeled for ballistic missile defense. Four of Japan’s six Aegis Ships are also equipped with ballistic missile interceptors. Aegis Ashore is the deployment of these systems on land. The Defense Ministry has included allocations for Aegis Ashore systems in its FY19 budget requests.


The government decided to procure two Aegis Ashore systems in December 2017 and plans to install them at the Ground Self-Defense Force (GSDF) Araya Training Area in Akita City and the GSDF Mutsumi Training Area in Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture. Japan will be paying a total of 466.4 billion yen to the U.S., but this does not include the new SM-3 Block 2A advanced interceptors (at around 4 billion yen each) that they will use. Since one Aegis Ashore system takes up to 24 interceptors, purchasing 48 of them for the two systems will cost another 190 billion yen, plus expenditures for land acquisition, ground leveling and construction, the total budget could come to 700 billion yen.


The SDF did not ask for Aegis Ashore. This was not included in the National Defense Program Guidelines (NDPG) of December 2013, projecting defense policy for the next 10 years, or the Mid-Term Defense Buildup Program (five-year outlook). Since it is being introduced based on a “political decision” in response to the U.S.’s request, the explanation given on why it is needed has been unconvincing. The Defense Ministry told the local governments and residents of the proposed deployment sites: “It is difficult to maintain constant surveillance for missile defense with the current four Aegis ships, so the introduction of Aegis Ashore is necessary.” The 2018 Defense White Paper also follows the same line.


For sure, four Aegis ships are inadequate. Precisely for this reason, both the NDPG and the Mid-Term Program called for increasing the number of Aegis ships with missile interceptors to eight, a process that would be completed by 2021. The Aegis Ashore systems will only be delivered by 2025 and actual deployment will take even longer.


The Defense Ministry and the Maritime Staff Office had originally calculated that if Japan had eight Aegis ships, six of them could operate constantly. If two of them could be assigned for ballistic missile defense at all times, the whole of Japan would be covered, and if the other four were rotated in two shifts, the remaining two could be devoted to the Aegis ships’ original mission of air defense. Therefore, it is fraudulent for them to be claiming recently that “the present four Aegis ships are inadequate, so Aegis Ashore is necessary.”


The biggest weakness in ballistic missile defense is the extremely small number of interceptors. The Aegis ships are equipped with vertical launching systems for 90 various types of missiles (96 for the latest models). Even if they carry 16 each of anti-submarine and air defense missiles, they would still be able to load more than 50 missile interceptors. Even the old-model missiles cost 1.6 billion yen each, so Japan cannot afford to procure a large number. At present, if the enemy fires more than eight conventional and nuclear missiles, it would be beyond the Aegis ships’ capability to respond.


Whenever I ask “doesn’t it make more sense to increase the number of interceptors rather than introduce Aegis Ashore?” the unanimous answer of senior SDF officers involved with missile defense is: “You are right.”


The Defense Ministry claims in its White Paper and other documents that the introduction of Aegis Ashore will “radically improve” missile defense capability. Yet, it would stress elsewhere the threat posed by “North Korea’s deployment of hundreds of Rodong missiles.” Even if the Aegis Ashore systems eventually deploy their full capacity of 24 interceptors in the future, there is no way defense capability against the DPRK’s hundreds of missiles can be “radically improved.” This is a typical case of exaggeration.


It is reckoned that North Korea’s ballistic missiles are mostly hidden in tunnels in the mountainous areas in the north of the country and if they are fired toward Tokyo, they would pass the airspace over Noto Peninsula, and if the Kinki region is targeted, they would fly over the Oki Islands. If the Aegis Ashore systems are meant to defend Japan, they ought to be deployed in Noto and Oki.


On the other hand, missiles launched from the north of the DPRK targeting Hawaii would basically fly over Akita, while those targeting Guam would pass over Yamaguchi. When the senior Defense Ministry officials in charge are queried on why Akita and Yamaguchi are chosen as deployment sites, they would only say “because this will enable the defense of the entire country.” Actually, since the missile interceptors have a range of 2,500 kilometers, the defense of Japan will be possible wherever they are deployed and even simply by the Aegis ships if they have enough missile interceptors. However, the Defense Ministry cannot possibly answer that Akita and Yamaguchi are enroute to Hawaii and Guam.


The U.S. has also deployed Aegis Ashore in Romania and is in the process of doing so in Poland. It is deploying THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) in the ROK. The U.S. is paying for their costs. Since the deployment of Aegis Ashore systems in Japan is because they are effective for the defense of Hawaii and Guam, Japan should at least negotiate for the U.S. to pay for half of the cost. (Abridged)

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