On Monday, Japanese Minister of Defense Taro Kono visited the U.S. state of Hawaii to tour the test complex for an advanced ballistic missile defense system that Japan is procuring.
Kono visited a site where the United States tests the Aegis Ashore missile defense system, a land-based version of the Aegis ballistic missile defense systems found on certain warships used by the United States and its allies (including Japan).
“By utilizing the Aegis Ashore system, we’ll secure Japan against North Korean missiles,” Kono said after visiting the site, according to Japan’s Kyodo News Agency. “We want to deploy [the Aegis Ashore missile defense units] as soon as possible.”
Japan’s procurement of the system was driven by growing concerns over North Korea’s rapidly advancing ballistic missile capability. North Korea is capable of ranging Japanese territory in its entirety with multiple types of nuclear-capable ballistic missiles.
Aegis Ashore, like its ship-based counterpart, supports exoatmospheric Standard Missile interceptor missiles which are capable of destroying ballistic missile reentry vehicles at high altitudes.
These new missile defense systems would expand Japan’s coverage against ballistic missile threats. Currently, Japan operates Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3) interceptors, which are capable of defending against short- and medium-range ballistic missiles in the terminal phase of flight.
During Kono’s visit, U.S. Vice Admiral John Hill, the current director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, provided a briefing on the system’s capability and on the environmental effects of the radar used by the system.
Japan is procuring two Aegis Ashore missile defense systems, both of which will be operated the Ground Self-Defense Force. The Japanese Ministry of Defense has determined the use of two sites for the GSDF Aegis Ashore batteries. One of the sites is in Japan’s Akita Prefecture and the other in Yamaguchi Prefecture.
Japan’s Aegis Ashore sites will feature the use of a Lockheed Martin advanced radar known as the Long-Range Discrimination Radar (LRDR). Amid local concerns, the Japanese government has reportedly been revisiting its deployment plans and considering new locations for the Aegis Ashore facilities.
According to Japan’s procurement timetable, the Aegis Ashore sites are expected to begin operations by the 2025 fiscal year. Russia and China have expressed concerns over the planned deployment.
Outside of Japan, two Aegis Ashore sites — both operated by the United States — exist in Poland and Romania, which are members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). The European Aegis Ashore sites are designed to defend against limited ballistic missile threats from Iran.