Japan to back Aegis on ships as missile interceptors: Kyodo

A facility of Aegis Ashore Missile Defence Test Complex in Kauai, Hawaii, US. PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japan's Cabinet is set to approve as early as next month plans to build two new Aegis-equipped ships as missile interceptors after scuttling a proposal to place the defence system ashore, Kyodo News reported.

If the plan is approved as early as mid-December, spending can be set aside for the sea-based missile interceptor platform in the fiscal 2021 budget to be drafted by year-end, Kyodo said on Saturday (Nov 28), citing government sources it didn't identify.

The estimated cost for the Aegis-equipped destroyers would be over 500 billion yen (S$6.43 billion), it reported.

Japan sees the batteries as one protection from the growing missile threats of China and North Korea - with the latter having test-fired rockets over Japanese territory.

In June, then Defence Minister Taro Kono announced that the deployment of Lockheed Martin Corp's Aegis Ashore missile defense system, with an estimated price tag of US$5 billion (S$6.7 billion), would be cancelled due to cost and safety concerns.

Mr Kono's replacement, Mr Nobuo Kishi, said in October that the government was considering a plan to install the components of the system on a mobile platform at sea. He also discussed options for the missile interceptor system that month with former US Secretary of Defence Mark Esper.

There were plans earlier to deploy two onshore batteries in the prefectures of Yamaguchi and Akita, at either end of Japan's main island of Honshu.

Residents in both locations protested. Some argued the batteries could make them targets of any strike, and that booster stages from the interceptors could fall in their area, posing a risk for residents.

Since 2019, North Korea has tested new short-range ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to anywhere in South Korea and avoid US interceptors.

North Korea launched two missiles over Hokkaido to the north in 2017. The country considers Japan its mortal enemy and has hundreds of missiles that potentially can strike all parts of the country.

Japan's current missile-defence system relies on upper-tier interception by Aegis-equipped destroyers and lower altitude missiles being shot down by Patriot PAC-3 interceptors.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party has also proposed considering missile systems that would allow the country to pre-emptively hit enemy rockets before they leave the pad, seeing this as a defensive move.

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