By Daizo Teramoto and Yuki Nikaido, staff writers
The Japanese government has been searching for an alternative to the canceled land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system and, according to several government sources, is inclined to build new vessels that will be equipped with the radar and interceptors developed for the land-based Aegis Ashore batteries. Although the details of the replacement system were originally planned to be decided by the end of the year, it is likely that only a general vision will be decided by that time. The specifications of the new vessels will likely be decided when the government draws up the draft budget for FY 2022 next summer.
The National Defense Program Guidelines and the Medium-Term Defense Program will be revised toward the end of the year as scheduled. Due to the delays in the decision on the Aegis replacement, however, only minimal revisions reflecting the cancellation of the land-based Aegis Ashore system are expected to be made.
The deployment of the land-based Aegis Ashore batteries was cancelled in June. By September, the government had decided to adopt a seaborne missile defense platform to replace the cancelled system. The Ministry of Defense presented three possibilities: (1) commercial vessels, (2) destroyers, and (3) oil-rig type, mobile platforms. The last was subsequently dismissed because it was deemed to be vulnerable to torpedoes and other attacks.
The government is now moving toward building new warships. The specifications and functions of the ships, including self-protection capabilities, will likely be decided before next summer. Building a ship designed for missile defense is less costly than building a multipurpose Aegis vessel, but the former is vulnerable to attacks. A full-fledged Aegis vessel is secure, but each vessel costs approximately 200 billion yen.
A defense ministry source pointed out, “It will be a choice between fully equipped Aegis destroyers and vessels solely focused on carrying Aegis equipment, after analyzing their costs and self-protection capabilities.” Many inside the government and the ruling parties advocate fully equipped Aegis destroyers. Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, however, said during the Diet interpellations on Oct. 28 that he will consider “the government’s severe fiscal situation” in deciding on the Aegis Ashore alternative.
A study is being conducted by private companies on the necessary technologies and the costs of the seaborne options. A decision will be made on the general vision for the project after an interim report of the study is issued in mid-November. The final report is expected next April.