In this Aug 29, 2017, file photo, Japan Air Self-Defense Force demonstrates a training to utilize the PAC-3 surface to air interceptors at the US Yokota Air Base on the outskirts of Tokyo. Japan’s Cabinet approved a plan Dec 19, 2017, to purchase a set of costly land-based missile combat system from the US to step up Japanese missile defense capability amid escalating threat from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. (EUGENE HOSHIKO / AP)
TOKYO - Japan formally decided on Tuesday it would expand its ballistic missile defence system with US-made ground-based Aegis radar stations and interceptors in response to a growing threat from the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK)'s rockets.
A proposal to build two Aegis Ashore batteries was approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet
A proposal to build two Aegis Ashore batteries was approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet.
The sites without the missiles will likely cost at least US$2 billion and are not likely to be operational until 2023 at the earliest, sources familiar with the plan told Reuters earlier.
"North Korea's nuclear missile development poses a new level of threat to Japan and as we have done in the past we will ensure that we are able to defend ourselves with a drastic improvement in ballistic missile defence," Japanese Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera told reporters after the Cabinet meeting.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea is also referred to as North Korea.
The decision to acquire the ground version of the Aegis missile-defence system, which is already deployed on Japanese warships, was widely expected.
The DPRK on Nov 29 tested a new, more powerful ballistic missile that it says can hit major US cities including Washington, and fly over Japan's current defence shield.
That rocket reached an altitude of more than 4,000 km, well above the range of interceptor missiles on Japanese ships operating in the Sea of Japan.
The DPRK says its weapons programmes are necessary to counter US aggression.
The new Aegis stations may not, however, come with a powerful radar, dubbed Spy-6, which is being developed by the United States.
Without it, Japan will not be able to fully utilise the extended range of a new interceptor missile, the SM-3 Block IIA, which cost about US$30 million each.
A later upgrade, once the US military has deployed Spy-6 on its ships around 2022, could prove a costly proposition for Japan as outlays on new equipment squeeze its military budget.
Initial funding will be ring-fenced in the next defence budget beginning in April, but no decision has been made on the radar, or the overall cost, or schedule, of the deployment, a Ministry of Defence official said at a press briefing.
Japan's military planners also evaluated the US-built THAAD (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense) system before deciding on Aegis Ashore.
Separately, Minister of Defence Itsunori Onodera said this month Japan would acquire medium-range cruise missiles it can launch from its F-15 and F-35 fighters at sites in DPRK, in a bid to deter any attack.
The purchase of what will become the longest-range munitions in Japan's military arsenal is controversial because it renounced the right to wage war against other nations in its post-World War Two constitution.