Japan Seeks Missile Defense Interceptors

Wade Boese

The Pentagon informed Congress May 5 that Japan has asked to buy nine ship-based missiles, which the island nation intends to deploy by 2007 as part of an initial missile defense capability.

Japan’s estimated $725 million purchase follows a Dec. 19, 2003, government decision to acquire missile defense systems. Japanese lawmakers subsequently approved approximately $1 billion for the effort during their current fiscal year, which began April 1.

Initially, one of Japan’s four Aegis-equipped destroyers will be outfitted to launch the requested Standard Missile-3 (SM-3), which is designed to protect against short- and medium-range ballistic missile attacks. Since 2002, the United States has successfully destroyed a target in four of five intercept tests involving the SM-3, although an April report by the General Accounting Office described the tests as “highly scripted.” (See ACT, May 2004.)

Over the next several years, Japan plans to arm additional ships with SM-3 missiles and replace its existing six land-based Patriot missile defense batteries with newer-model Patriot Advanced Capability-3 systems, according to a Japanese government official interviewed May 14.

Concerned about North Korea’s ballistic missile programs, Japan began missile defense cooperation with the United States in 1999 but limited its activities to research.

Legislators from Japan’s ruling Liberal Democratic Party have proposed amending the country’s existing arms trade controls, which prohibit weapons exports, in anticipation of U.S.-Japanese missile defense cooperation evolving beyond research. The government is currently reviewing possible modifications.

Despite its close relationship with the United States, Japan says that its missile defense will not be tied into a global U.S. system. Its proposed defense “aims at defending Japan, will be operated based on Japan’s independent judgment, and will not be used for the purpose of defending third countries,” the government announced in December.