Washington to bring Tokyo under new missile defence shield.
Wary of North Korea's missile and nuclear programs, the United States may bring Japan under its planned ballistic missile shield as early as next year by stationing a warship armed with newly developed interceptors in Japanese waters, a news report said Tuesday.
Such a deployment would help blunt the threat posed by North Korea's increasingly sophisticated arsenal of warheads until Japan acquires its own US-developed ballistic missile defence system in several years.
The report by a Japanese news agency came days after Japan's military unveiled plans to spend more than a billion dollars acquiring two weapons systems that are components of the US ballistic missile shield commissioned by US President George W. Bush in December.
The US system, intended to defend American territory, troops and allies against attack by ballistic missiles, is scheduled to be operational by 2005.
Japan won't have its own ballistic missile shield until later in the decade. Its Defence Agency said Friday it plans to begin taking delivery of two US-developed interceptors the ship-launched Standard Missile-3 and the ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 in 2006. Deployment is reportedly slated for 2007.
The United States may not wait that long to strengthen its ability to knock down warheads targeting a country that hosts almost 50,000 American troops, Kyodo News reported Tuesday.
The Japanese news agency quoted government sources here saying that US military planners wary of North Korea are considering sending a warship equipped with SM-3 interceptors and an improved version of the Aegis radar system to a US base in Japan as early as next year.
Officials at the Defence Agency in Tokyo were not immediately available for comment. A spokesman for the US Navy in Japan, CmDr John Wallach, said he was unaware of such plans.
But the commander of US naval forces in Japan, Navy Rear Adm. Robert Chaplin, told reporters last week that missile defence capabilities would be "a factor" taken into consideration when deciding in the future whether to replace US warships stationed in Japan, Wallach said.
Concerns about North Korean missiles have been mounting since the reclusive communist nation told US officials last year that it was developing nuclear weapons.
Intelligence officials estimate North Korea possesses at least 100 Rodong ballistic missiles capable of striking Japan in minutes.
To upgrade its aging arsenal of Patriot interceptors, Japan's Defence Agency has asked for 142.3 billion yen (US$1.21 billion) in fiscal 2004 in a first step toward acquiring a US ballistic missile defence system that is expected to cost 500 billion yen (US$4.25 billion) over the next four years.
Winning approval for the program may require the government to handle thorny issues related to Japan's pacifist constitution. And the price tag has even supporters of stronger defence cautioning against rushing ahead.
"The introduction of such a costly system must first be the subject of detailed study to ascertain how effective it would be in defending the nation against a missile attack," the conservative Yomiuri newspaper said Tuesday.
[Source: Daily Times, Pak, Associated Press September 3, 2003]
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