Japan beefs up missile system to defend against North Korea

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"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", Itsunori Onodera, the defence minister, said.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's cabinet approved a plan Tuesday to buy two Aegis Ashore missile interceptor systems at a cost of almost $2 billion.

"We need to fundamentally improve our ballistic missile defence abilities to protect our country at all times and in a sustainable manner, " the statement said.

"In addition to another step towards the creation of a full-fledged segment of the U.S. global missile defense in the Asia-Pacific Region, this also implies a risk for Japan to obtain a qualitatively new military potential, because universal vertical launch systems of Aegis Ashore complex are capable of using strike weapons, including Tomahawk cruise missiles".

Japan will purchase a USA -built, land-based missile defense system in response to what it considers the rapidly growing threat from North Korea. The deployment of these systems is explained by the sharply increased missile threat from North Korea. However, the government concluded in an in-depth study earlier this year that the Aegis Ashore system is more cost effective for missile defense than THAAD.

The government has made a decision to add a new layer of protection to the already existing two tiers of missile defences, the Maritime Self-Defense Force's Aegis destroyers equipped with Standard Missile-3 interceptors and the Air Self-Defense Force's ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors. The Defense Ministry also studied another United States anti-missile system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, but chose Aegis Ashore due to its cost-effectiveness and other factors, officials said.

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As the acquisition plan was not stated in the latest national defense policy guidelines drawn up in late 2013, the government chose to seek Cabinet approval for the decision, according to the officials.

To accelerate the preparations for the deployment of missile defense complexes, the government intends to allocate 2.8 billion yen ($24 million) from the supplementary budget for the current financial year (ending March 31, 2018).

The Aegis Ashore batteries will be armed with SM-3 Block IIA and SM-6 interceptors.

Aegis Ashore is already operating in Romania with another system planned for Poland.

In late November, North Korea launched an unidentified ballistic missile that fell in the exclusive economic zone of Japan.