By Daizo Teramoto and Hideki Kitami, staff writers
On Nov. 25, the Ministry of Defense announced the overall findings of the interim report prepared by outside contractors regarding the alternatives to the scrapped plan to deploy land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense batteries. The report confirmed the “technological feasibility” of installing Aegis Ashore functions offshore, effectively providing the technological backing for the government’s plan to build new destroyers to carry Aegis Ashore equipment. While the government plans to make a general decision on the alternative by the end of the year, some familiar with the issue are concerned that the government is being hasty in its decision.
Two private companies were contracted by MOD last month to produce a report on technological issues and the cost of converting the equipment developed for the land-based Aegis Ashore to offshore use.
The Japanese government has already signed a contract to purchase SPY-7 radars manufactured by the Lockheed Martin as well as the Aegis system. The government reportedly consulted with the U.S. on the feasibility of converting them to offshore use. The government received confirmation that modifications would enable the system to be operated offshore.
To date, there has been no instance where an SPY-7 has been deployed offshore. The U.S. government, however, responded to the inquiry by stating that (the radar’s capabilities) won’t be affected by being used offshore. The U.S. side expressed the view that the same basic ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability of the Aegis Ashore system will still be achieved by installing the system on an alternative offshore option, such as on new destroyers.
Based on this information provided by the U.S., the contractors determined that “it is technologically feasible to design and build an alternative offshore option” and concluded that they have “confirmed the technological feasibility” of installing Aegis Ashore functions on an offshore option.
The interim report effectively gave the green light to the offshore alternatives under consideration by the government. At a meeting held on the same day after the announcement, many LDP Diet members specializing in security affairs supported building new Aegis destroyers.
The original plan to deploy the Aegis Ashore system was cancelled because of a technological problem that surfaced after the government had made the decision to introduce the system. An LDP member specializing in defense matters expressed the concern that “the MOD might repeat the same mistake, as the ministry tends not to be careful enough about the technological details.”
“The government has not sufficiently explained their insistence on using the SPY-7 despite the fact it has never been used offshore,” said Meikai University professor Tetsuo Kotani, who studies security issues. “Instead of using this opportunity to start a comprehensive discussion on Japan’s missile defense, the government seems to be prioritizing sticking to the time schedule,” Kotani added.