16 December 2019
Rethink needed of entire Aegis Ashore missile defense plan
The Asahi Shimbun


The Ground Self-Defense Force’s Araya training area, foreground, is located near the urban area of Akit, the capital of Akita Prefecture. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Some government defense policymakers are calling for a reconsideration of the plan to deploy a U.S.-made Aegis Ashore missile defense system at the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Araya exercise area in Akita, the capital of northern Akita Prefecture.

Concern about the viability of the plan has been raised within the administration of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, apparently stemming from the strong opposition to the Defense Ministry blueprint within the local communities.

Asahi Shimbun editorials have cast doubt on whether the costly weapon system will really be worth the huge amount of money that has to be paid from the limited defense budget.

The government should now rethink the whole plan to introduce the land-based variant of the Aegis defense system against ballistic and cruise missiles.

The government says a pair of Aegis Ashore batteries to be deployed at two locations--one in eastern parts of Japan and the other in western parts--will cover the entire nation with a defense system against ballistic missiles.

It has chosen the Araya exercise area and the GSDF’s Mutsumi training area in Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, as the candidate sites.

But local residents have voiced concerns about health hazards from strong radar pulses and becoming a potential target for attack, possibly by North Korea.

As for the plan concerning Akita Prefecture, many incredibly sloppy errors have been found in a Defense Ministry report that cited the Araya exercise area as “the only suitable site” in eastern Japan. The discovery has evoked strong public distrust of the government.

Local public anger was further aggravated when a ministry official dozed off during a meeting with local residents to explain the plan.

The government is currently re-examining candidate locations in three northeastern prefectures of Aomori, Akita and Yamagata for the deployment of the system. Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga and Defense Minister Taro Kono recently stressed the importance of “distance” from the nearest residential area.

But their remarks only deepen doubt about the first decision to pick the Araya exercise area, which is close to residential areas and not far from the prefectural and municipal government buildings. Memories of fierce air raids by U.S. bombers during World War II are still alive in the local communities.

It seems that the ministry had already decided on the Araya site for the deployment without giving serious consideration to the special local circumstances and the feelings among local residents.

There are also government officials who are expressing skepticism about changing the candidate site in Akita Prefecture on the grounds that such a move could produce strong pressure for a review of the site in Yamaguchi Prefecture as well.

Suga has officially claimed that the government has “not given up on Araya.” If the government clings to the decision because of concerns about the collapse of the entire Aegis project, it is mixing up the priorities.

Given the serious security situation around Japan, it is clearly important to make constant reviews of Japan’s missile defense strategy and capabilities. But the Self-Defense Forces already have a two-tier missile defense system, composed of the Aegis destroyers that can launch interceptor missiles, and the Patriot Advanced Capability3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air interceptor.

It is open to question whether adding the pair of Aegis Ashore systems, which would cost more than 500 billion yen ($4.56 billion) in total, to the Japanese missile defense capabilities really makes sense from the standpoint of cost effectiveness.

The government touts the land-based Aegis systems as being able to “protect the whole of Japan 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” but it has offered no convincing information to back its claim.

The systems will not be deployed quickly, either, with their operations expected to start in fiscal 2025 or later.

The Abe administration is eager to introduce the Aegis Ashore systems at least partly because of strong pressure from U.S. President Donald Trump for Tokyo’s purchases of many expensive U.S.-made weapons.

But it is vital for Japan to make its own cool-headed, well-reasoned decisions concerning the plan.

The nation’s fiscal crunch demands that the government evaluates afresh the appropriateness and effectiveness of the plan more rigorously.

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