Japan seeks new US missile radar as Pyongyang threat grows

Business World - - THE WORLD -

TOKYO — Japan is wor­ried the United States has so far de­clined to arm it with a pow­er­ful new radar, ar­gu­ing the de­ci­sion makes the US missile de­fense sys­tem it plans to in­stall much less ca­pa­ble of coun­ter­ing a grow­ing North Korean threat, three sources said.

Japan wants to have a land-based ver­sion of the Aegis ballistic missile de­fense (BMD) sys­tem op­er­a­tional by 2023 as a new layer of de­fense to help counter North Korea’s missile ad­vances.

Yet, with­out the new pow­er­ful radar, known as Spy- 6, Japan will have to field the sys­tem with ex­ist­ing radar tech­nol­ogy that has less range than a new gen­er­a­tion of BMD in­ter­cep­tor mis­siles, the sources who have knowl­edge of the dis­cus­sion told Reuters. That could mean that while the in­ter­cep­tor has enough range to strike a missile lofted high into space, the tar­get­ing radar may not be able to de­tect the threat un­til it is much closer.

Ja­panese of­fi­cials have wit­nessed a demon­stra­tion of Spy-6 tech­nol­ogy, which boosts the range of BMD radars dozens of times, but ef­forts to se­cure the equip­ment from their ally have come to naught.

“So far all we have got to do is smell the eel,” said one of the of­fi­cials, re­fer­ring to a sa­vory fried eel dish pop­u­lar in Japan.

The mil­i­tary threat to Japan deep­ened on Tues­day when Pyongyang fired an in­ter­me­di­ate range ballistic missile over Japan’s north­ern Hokkaido is­land. Ja­panese Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe slammed the ac­tion as “reck­less” and “un­prece­dented.”

Japan’s De­fense Min­istry and the Pen­tagon did not im­me­di­ately re­spond to re­quests for com­ment.

IRONCLAD

Wash­ing­ton’s re­luc­tance to share the radar may make Tokyo feel more vul­ner­a­ble to North Korean at­tack and blunt US ef­forts to as­sure Japan about its com­mit­ment to de­fend its East Asian ally as ten­sions in the re­gion in­ten­sify.

The new US Am­bas­sador to Japan, Wil­liam Hagerty, dubbed their se­cu­rity part­ner­ship as the “great­est on earth” in his first meet­ing with Mr. Abe on Aug 18.

The US’ top gen­eral, Joint Chiefs Chair­man Gen. Joseph Dun­ford de­scribed that al­liance as “ironclad” in talks with the Chief of Staff of Japan’s Self De­fense Forces, Ad­mi­ral Kat­su­toshi Kawano the same day.

Still, a pledge to let Japan have Spy-6 has not been forth­com­ing. Japan has not yet placed an or­der for Aegis Ashore, but has in­for­mally asked Wash­ing­ton to let it have the new radar tech­nol­ogy.

“There is no guar­an­tee that Japan is go­ing to get it,” said an­other of the sources. The US Navy sup­ports giv­ing Japan the new radar, the source said, but may be thwarted by re­luc­tance from the Missile De­fense Agency, which is re­spon­si­ble for de­vel­op­ing BMD tech­nol­ogy.

Of­fi­cials there are wary to re­lease ad­vanced tech­nol­ogy, even to a close ally, be­fore the United States has fielded the tech­nol­ogy. The United States’ first Spy-6 equipped Aegis war­ship is not slated to be­gin op­er­a­tions be­fore 2022, one of the sources said.

Tokyo will need per­mis­sion to use Spy-6 well ahead of that roll out date to give the maker, Raytheon Co and Aegis sys­tem in­te­gra­tor Lock­heed Martin Corp time to build and test the sys­tem.

Any de­ci­sion to hold back Spy- 6 could there­fore add sig­nif­i­cantly to Japan’s al­ready ris­ing bill for missile de­fense by forc­ing it to pay to up­grade or re­place Aegis Ashore sys­tems af­ter de­ploy­ment.

Tokyo plans to build two Aegis Ashore bat­ter­ies, cost­ing around $700 mil­lion each with­out mis­siles, the sources said. That would mean its south­west­ern Ok­i­nawa is­land chain would likely be pro­tected by one of Japan’s ex­ist­ing BMD war­ships.

The Aegis sys­tem’s new SM-3 Block IIA de­fen­sive mis­siles, de­signed to hit war­heads Pyongyang may try to fire over its missile shield, can fly more than 2,000 km — about twice the dis­tance of the cur­rent SM-3 mis­siles.

The in­ter­cep­tor mis­siles will cost around $30 mil­lion each, the sources added.

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