Japan’s Defence Ministry said on Monday (15 June) that it has decided to stop unpopular plans to deploy two costly land-based US missile defence systems, consisting of two Aegis Ashore units, which were to be aimed primarily at bolstering the country’s capability against possible attacks from North Korea.
In 2017 the Japanese government approved adding the two missile defence systems to bolster the country’s defence network which is based on Aegis-equipped destroyers at sea and Patriot missiles on land. However, the proposed deployment proved problematic and was unpopular among many Japanese, particularly among the residents in the proposed deployment zones.
Defence Minister Taro Kono told reporters that he decided to “stop the deployment process” of the Aegis Ashore systems after it was found that the safety of one of the two planned host communities could not be ensured without a hardware redesign that would be extremely time consuming and costly.
“Considering the cost and time it would require, I had no choice but judge that pursuing the plan is not logical.”
Defence officials claimed that the two Aegis Ashore units could cover Japan entirely from one station at Yamaguchi in the south and another at Akita in the north. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government will now have to reconsider the configuration of Japan’s missile defence program.
The plan to deploy the two missile defence systems already had faced a series of delays and setbacks, including questions about the selection of one of the sites, repeated cost estimate hikes that climbed to 450 billion yen ($4.1 billion) for their 30-year operation and maintenance, and safety concerns that led to local opposition.
Critics have also claimed that the systems were more likely to serve US than Japanese security interests, in particular for the interception of long-range North Korean missiles potentially targetting Guam or Hawaii. Moreover, the deployment could contravene the country’s war-renouncing constitution.
Defence Minister Kono said that Japan had already spent 180 billion yen ($1.7 billion) for the systems, but that not everything will go to waste because the system is compatible with those used on Japanese destroyers.
It was ultimately the inability to guarantee the safety of the community in Yamaguchi that was the deal breaker. Defence officials had promised that any boosters used to intercept a missile flying over Japan would fall only on a military base there, and ensuring a safe fall of boosters to the base was proving impossible with the current design of the systems, Kono said.
Japan chose Aegis Ashore over a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system because of its cheaper cost and versatility. The deployment of THAAD in South Korea triggered protests from China, with Beijing seeing it as a security threat. LINK
The US has already installed the land-based Aegis Ashore in Romania and Poland, and Japan was to be the third country to host the system.
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