Friday, August 05, 2005

Japan To Speed Up Missile Defence

The Japanese Government is trying to bring forward by up to a year the deployment of a ballistic missile defence shield against the threat of North Korean and Chinese attacks.
A senior Japan Defence Agency official has confirmed the two-tier missile defence program is being pursued with "a sense of urgency" and said that, if necessary, extra funding could be allocated to the project this year. The agency's white paper, approved yesterday by cabinet, does not mention an acceleration of the program but puts ballistic missile defence at the head of its "effective responses to new threats and diverse contingencies" and cites North Korea and China as the main sources of threat. "North Korea's development, deployment and proliferation of ballistic missiles, and the nuclear issue in general, is a main factor of instability for the Asian Pacific region as well as the international community, and its moves are of great concern," the report says. The white paper noted that China was developing new nuclear-capable intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles and upgrading the intermediate and medium-range missiles that cover Japan. However, mindful of frequent recent spats with Beijing over military and strategic issues, Japan Defence Agency director Yoshinori Ono said after yesterday's cabinet meeting: "I would like to reiterate that China is not a threat to Japan.
But there are issues that require attention ... and we urge China to improve its transparency." Earlier, when briefing reporters on the white paper, the senior agency official declined to specifically confirm that Japan hoped to start deploying a new generation of Patriot surface-to-air missile, the PAC-3, by the end of this budget year next March, a year ahead of schedule. But he made it clear "technical feasibility issues" for integrating destroyer-launched SM-3 interceptor missiles with the land-based PAC-3 system were close to being resolved. "We have felt that this two-tier defence has become quite realistic, so whether it's half a year or a year that the whole system is completed, the sooner it can be constructed the more desirable it is for us," the official said. "And whether or not we have to wait until the end of the budget year - that is March - there are times you can even put that budgetary allocation forward. In fact, we have had this sense of urgency very keenly for some time." Under the present schedule, the first of three PAC-3 units is supposed to be deployed by March 2007 and Japan would start installing SM-3 systems in its four Aegis missile destroyers the following year. The two-tiered program is planned to be complete by March 2011. The system would allow the Japanese to attack an incoming ballistic missile in mid-course through the upper atmosphere with an SM-3 or, if that failed, in its "terminal phase" with a land-based PAC-3. The Japanese system is designed to mesh with the American Pacific missile defence shield. The Defence Agency said Japan's close alliance with the US, which stations more than 40,000 of its troops in an officially pacifist country, was important "in maintaining peace and stability" in the region but said China seemed "wary" of Washington.
The Defence of Japan white paper focuses most closely on China: its continual expansion of military spending beyond national defence requirements, its missile capabilities and its naval ambitions. The paper notes that China's defence budget for this year rose by 12.6 per cent to 244.7 billion yuan ($39.5 billion), continuing an annual growth rate of more than 10 per cent in "announced" military spending for the 17th consecutive year. However, the paper also notes the budget allocation does not cover equipment procurement or research and development. "It is more than desirable that China will make an additional effort to improve transparency of its defence policy and military capabilities," it said. Japan's budget for defence for the next five years is about Y24 trillion ($282 billion). Sino-Japanese relations have deteriorated in recent months as they argue over energy resources and how they remember Japan's 1931-1945 occupation.