Having abandoned its plan to deploy the Aegis Ashore land-based missile interceptor system., the government is now considering an alternative plan where it would modify the current fleet of destroyers of the Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF), the Sankei Shimbun learned from multiple sources on July 19. The Aegis Ashore’s SPY7 radar would be deployed on the ground, and the remaining missile launchers and other equipment mounted on the destroyers.
If the existing destroyers were modified, the boosters (auxiliary propulsion systems) from the interceptor missiles would fall into the ocean, eliminating the problem of boosters falling outside the Ground Self-Defense Force training ranges where the Aegis Ashore was originally scheduled to be deployed. Deploying only the radar part of the Aegis Ashore to Akita and Yamaguchi Prefectures, which are the originally planned deployment sites, would ensure nationwide coverage.
This would also save costs. Of the total contract price of $35 billion, $6.5 billion has already been paid for the radar portion. This would not be wasted with the alternative plan under consideration. Some destroyers are scheduled to be decommissioned. The government is considering equipping them with an Aegis system or taking measures to extend their operational life so that a shortfall in the entire MSDF fleet posture can be avoided.
The government and the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) are also considering a proposal to build two new Aegis ships, but this option presents the issue of high procurement costs. The idea of installing the land-based Aegis Ashore on a “megafloat,” an artificial floating island, poses a security threat, including terrorist and other external attacks. Deploying the Aegis Ashore to a different location is expected to meet opposition from local communities.
The operation of existing destroyers and land-based radars, however, could be obstructed if there were interference in the radio communications exchanged between the radar sites and the destroyers. Some LDP members influential in defense policy consider the idea questionable as it may exacerbate the MSDF’s labor shortage.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced that the “National Security Council (NSC) will thoroughly study alternative plans for the Aegis Ashore this summer and establish a new course of direction.” The government and the LDP are also considering having Japan acquire the capability to attack enemy bases. The administration intends to finalize the outline of the alternative plan by the end of September and hammer out the details by the end of December in time for the compilation of the FY 2021 budget.