TOKYO • Japan is moving closer to the introduction of a United States anti-ballistic missile shield, with Defence Minister Tomomi Inada saying such systems will strengthen Japan's defence capabilities.
"We are investigating future systems for intercepting missiles," Ms Inada said in Tokyo yesterday.
The government does not have a concrete plan to introduce the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system in the country, but military officials are "considering what can be done", she said.
Japan originally expected to delay making a decision on deploying Thaad until after 2019, but with at least 20 ballistic missile launches by Pyongyang this year alone, officials in Tokyo are apparently stepping up the schedule.
Japan already has a two-layer ballistic missile defence system. Ship-based SM-3 interceptors target missiles in space and land- based PAC-3 batteries aim to intercept them as they near the ground.
Thaad is said to be capable of intercepting missiles in or outside the earth's atmosphere.
The Yomiuri newspaper reported on Thursday that the government will set up a panel chaired by State Minister of Defence Kenji Wakamiya to compile guidelines for anti-ballistic missile defence by next summer.
Ms Inada will visit Guam from Dec 11 to 12 to inspect the technology at a US base, the report added, citing unnamed sources. The introduction of Thaad, manufactured by Lockheed Martin and costing about US$800 million (S$1.14 billion) apiece, will cost hundreds of billions of yen, the paper said.
South Korea has already agreed to the deployment of Thaad on its territory, and this week signed a defence intelligence agreement with Japan.
Thaad is scheduled to be deployed in South Korea within eight to 10 months, General Vincent Brooks, commander of the US forces in Korea, said earlier this month.
China has condemned South Korea's move to introduce Thaad, saying the shield could be a threat to it. Russia has also opposed it being stationed in Asia.
Separately, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said yesterday that Russia's deployment of missile systems on islands in the western Pacific that are also claimed by Tokyo is "regrettable". His comments come less than a month before Russian President Vladimir Putin is to visit Japan for talks aimed at progress on the decades-old territorial row.
Moscow has already said it hopes the deployment will not damage efforts to settle the dispute.
Russian media reported on Tuesday that Bastion and Bal anti-ship missile systems are now in operation on the islands, part of an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean over which Russia and Japan have staked rival claims for 70 years.
The feud over the islands, called the Southern Kurils in Russia and the Northern Territories in Japan, has kept Tokyo and Moscow from signing a peace treaty to formally end World War II.