Pacific News Minute: Japan Accelerates Purchase of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems

Aug 31, 2017

Credit U.S. Missile Defense Agency

Yesterday, the Navy said it successfully shot down a medium range missile at the Pacific Missile Range Facility off Kauai. The interceptor was an SM 6 missile fired from the destroyer USS John Paul Jones, and while officials said the test has been planned for some time, it came just a few days after North Korea’s latest launch, which flew over the northern part of Japan and crashed into the Pacific. In response, Japan plans to upgrade its anti-missile systems.

Japan already fields an advanced version of the US Patriot missile system for point defense, the PAC3. A second tier of missile defense is aboard four destroyers, equipped with the Aegis combat system, which couples SM3 missiles with a powerful SPY-1 Radar.

Japan had been expected to spend the next year deciding on its next layer of anti-missile defense - the two contenders are THAAD…the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system that’s already deployed on Guam and in South Korea…and Aegis Ashore…a land based version of the system it already uses on its destroyers.  According to several reports, Japan’s decided to skip the evaluation period, and order two Aegis Ashore batteries, which cost about $740 million apiece… plus missiles.

According to Reuters, Japanese officials are lobbying for those systems to be equipped with the new, and much more powerful SPY-6 Radar.  But The U.S. Missile Defense agency is reluctant to release new technology, even to close allies, before it’s provided to American forces.  Reuters says the new version boosts the range of anti-missile radars dozens of times and quotes one Japanese official who saw a demonstration of the new system comparing it to a savory fried eel dish popular in Japan.  “So far” he said, “all we have got to do is smell the eel”.