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Japan gov't considering Aegis Ashore for cruise missile defense

The Aegis Ashore missile interceptor system is seen in this photo provided by the U.S. Department of Defense's Missile Defense Agency.

KAUAI, Hawaii -- As it plans to deploy land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense systems, the Japanese government has begun deliberating adopting capabilities to not only intercept ballistic missiles from North Korea, but cruise missiles fired by other countries that may target Japan.

Under consideration is the introduction of next-generation SM-6 missiles, which can intercept both ballistic and cruise missiles.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, who on Jan. 10 (Jan. 11 Japan time) visited an Aegis Ashore test complex on Kauai, Hawaii, told reporters, "We are considering ballistic missile defense, but we hope to develop basic infrastructure that will be of comprehensive use to us, including for cruise missiles approaching Japan."

The SM-3 missiles currently in use on Aegis-equipped destroyers of the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (MSDF) can only defend against ballistic missiles. In the case of ballistic missiles, after they have burned out, their warheads fall from outside the Earth's atmosphere on a parabolic trajectory. The SM-3 interceptor missiles are equipped to shoot down such warheads before they enter the atmosphere.

Cruise missiles, however, not only fly at low altitudes that make them difficult to capture on radar, but can change course after they have been launched, making them difficult to detect.

According to the U.S. Navy, the SM-6 is already operational. The Japanese government plans to lay down a new general framework for defense within the year, and is set to deliberate expanding the range of missiles its missile defense systems can intercept.

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