Japan picks Lockheed Martin to build powerful radar for Aegis ballistic missile defence stations

The Lockheed Martin logo seen on a missile casing at the Farnborough Airshow, in Farnborough, Britain, on July 16, 2018.
The Lockheed Martin logo seen on a missile casing at the Farnborough Airshow, in Farnborough, Britain, on July 16, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (REUTERS) - Japan said on Monday (July 30) that it had picked Lockheed Martin to build a new powerful radar for two multi-billion dollar ground-based Aegis ballistic missile defence (BMD) stations meant to guard against North Korean missile strikes.

The decision is the latest sign that Japan is forging ahead with plans to reinforce its defences despite a North Korean pledge to denuclearise.

The purchase could also help Tokyo ease trade friction with Washington as its key ally threatens to impose tariffs on Japanese car imports.

Although Japanese defence officials initially estimated the cost of the two Aegis Ashore batteries, slated for deployment from 2023, at around US$2 billion (S$2.7 billion), the final outlay will be at least double that, sources earlier told Reuters.

Japanese media reports have put the cost of the two sites, which will include the Aegis air defence system, missile launchers and interceptors at around US$6 billion.

The radar decision means Aegis Ashore can be added to a defence budget proposal slated for release next month ahead of any meeting between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump in September, when Mr Abe is expected to attend the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Mr Trump has cranked up pressure on Tokyo with tariffs on steel and threats of levies on car imports, though during a visit to Tokyo in November last year he had welcomed Japan's procurement of Lockheed Martin F-35 stealth fighters and urged Japan to buy more US weapons and "billions and billions of dollars of additional products of all kinds".

The Aegis Ashore radar choice was between Raytheon's Spy-6 radar, designed to upgrade the US Navy's fleet of Aegis warships, and a version of Lockheed Martin's Long Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR), which will be deployed in the Ground-Based Midcourse Defence anti-ballistic missile system in Alaska around 2020.

Both radars have far greater ranges than current Aegis radars operated by both Japan or the United States.

Japan needs more powerful detection in order for its new longer-range interceptor missiles to provide more effective defence against North Korean launches and any potential threat from China.