Monday, July 25, 2005

Japan Advancing Missile Shield Deployment

Japan may start deploying a missile shield by the end of next March, a year earlier than planned, to counter the threat of North Korean and Chinese ballistic missiles, a Japanese daily said. The report came a day after the Japanese parliament approved legislation that would allow a swifter response to ballistic missile attacks. The Yomiuri Shimbun, quoting government sources, said Tokyo was considering a faster track for deployment so that some of the missile defence system will be ready when the bill comes into effect at the end of the fiscal year, which ends in March 2006. It said the plan reflects concerns about the threat of ballistic missiles held by North Korea, which declared in February that it possesses nuclear weapons. Defence Ministry officials were not immediately available for comment. Alarm mounted in 1998 when North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean, prompting Tokyo’s decision in December 2003 to buy a US-made defence system. Under the current plan, the Defence Ministry is to start deploying Patriot 3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air missiles in late fiscal 2006/07, which ends in March 2007, Yomiuri said. In addition, one of Japan’s four Aegis destroyers is to be refitted with SM-3 missiles by the end of 2007. By the end of fiscal 2010/11, the government wants to have four missile defence-equipped Aegis destroyers and three PAC-3 units deployed.