Japan mulling boosting Aegis destroyer fleet: Report

TOKYO (AFP) - Japan is considering boosting its fleet of Aegis-equipped destroyers from six to eight to counter threats from North Korean missile development and tensions with China over territory, a daily said on Tuesday.

The government has started making arrangements to build two new Aegis vessels equipped with advanced interceptor missiles, the daily Yomiuri Shimbun said, quoted anonymous sources.

Tokyo hopes to include the plan in a new basic defence programme to be adopted at the year-end, the paper said, adding the new destroyers could be deployed within 10 years.

Japan currently has six vessels with the US-developed Aegis combat system.

The defence ministry said increasing the size of the fleet was an option under consideration as part of a governmental review of the defence programme.

"We are considering reinforcing Aegis ships," said Tsuyoshi Hirata at the ministry's press office.

"What the formation of the Self-Defence Forces should be like in the future will be studied when (the government) reviews the basic defence programme," he said.

The Yomiuri reported Tokyo wants to reinforce its Aegis fleet "because North Korea's nuclear and missile development has become an imminent threat to Japan's security".

North Korea conducted its third nuclear test in February, following a ballistic missile technology test in December 2012.

The Japanese-language Yomiuri also said the threat from China has also been growing around Japan's southwestern waters as the two countries have locked horns over a chain of islets in the East China Sea.

The daily noted building new Aegis ships was not being considered specifically to counter Chinese ballistic missiles.

"But if Japan could dispatch an Aegis ship equipped with a powerful radar system permanently to areas around the southwest islands, it is expected to enhance the nation's vigilance and watch capabilities against Chinese airplanes and cruise missiles," it said.