Japan to Step Up Defenses From Chinese, North Korean Threats

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga signaled to North Korea and China he will bolster Japan’s military to counter threats they pose to security by allocating an estimated $5 billion for sea-based missile interceptors and new anti-ship missiles.

His cabinet Friday authorized spending to add two Aegis-equipped destroyers to Japan’s fleet of vessels -- to bring its tally to 10 and make it the largest behind the U.S. Navy. It will also develop a new, longer-range surface-to-ship missile that would to counter threats at sea, in a move that comes as its warships and those from China have sailed near each other off uninhabited East China Sea islands claimed by both nations.

Japan and China have for decades been at loggerheads over the islands called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, which poses the potential for wider conflict, since the U.S. has said the islands are covered by its security treaty with Japan.

“This will strengthen Japan’s stand-off defensive capability from outside threats while ensuring the safety of Self-Defense Forces personnel,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato told a news briefing.

No numbers were given on spending for the new ballistic missile defense system in the next fiscal year budget plan but the costs for the destroyers alone were nearly $5 billion, the Nikkei newspaper reported, citing estimates from private contractors. The cost to develop the new missile was estimated at 33.5 billion yen ($324 million), Kyodo News reported.

The budget doesn’t include allocations for a plan that had been floated under Suga’s predecessor, Shinzo Abe, to develop missile systems allowing the country to preemptively hit enemy rockets before they leave the pad, seeing this as a defensive move.

Japan views Aegis systems from Lockheed Martin Corp. 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-Defense Minister Taro Kono announced the deployment of the Aegis Ashore missile defense system, with an estimated price tag of $5 billion, would be canceled due to cost and safety concerns.

Japan to Step Up Defenses From Chinese, North Korean Threats

Japan had been looking to deploy two onshore batteries in the prefectures of Yamaguchi and Akita, at either end of Japan’s main island of Honshu, which would give it a broad shield against incoming missiles. But 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.

Since 2019, North Korea has tested new short-range ballistic missiles capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to anywhere in South Korea and avoid U.S. interceptors. North Korea, which considers Japan its mortal enemy, has already deployed several types of ballistic missiles capable of hitting Japan, weapons experts have said.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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