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Defense Ministry to delay tender on land surveys for proposed Aegis Ashore sites

A local resident voices opposition to the planned deployment of the Aegis Ashore land-based missile shield to Akita Prefecture during a rally in front of the prefectural government headquarters in Akita on June 1, 2018. (Mainichi)

TOKYO -- The Defense Ministry announced on July 25 that it will delay procedures for holding a tender for land suitability surveys for two proposed sites for deployment of Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense systems.

The ministry will delay the date of opening the bid for selecting a company that will conduct geological surveys and land measurements where such missile shields are expected to be installed from Aug. 2, as originally scheduled, to Sept. 12.

The move is in response to criticism from local governments hosting the proposed sites that the ministry has failed to provide a sufficient explanation of the deployment plan and its impact on the local communities. The ministry is poised to provide an additional explanation prior to the tender.

Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera had earlier told a news conference on July 24 that the ministry "wasn't considering postponing" the bidding at the current stage.

Opposition parties have criticized the Defense Ministry's response as "too hasty and sloppy."

The Defense Ministry plans to deploy the Aegis Ashore systems to the Ground Self-Defense Force's Araya Training Area in the city of Akita in northern Japan, and the Mutsumi Training Area in the Yamaguchi Prefecture city of Hagi in western Japan. In June, the ministry notified the Akita and Yamaguchi prefectural governments and other local bodies concerned of the deployment plan.

The ministry attempted to convince the local governments of the proposal by holding briefing sessions for local residents and dispatching Onodera to those two areas.

However, the Akita Prefectural Government and the Hagi Municipal Government reacted negatively to the move and demanded that the tender be postponed, saying, "The entire plan is obscure," and "Concerns haven't been dispelled."

Local residents in these two areas have raised concerns about the possible impact of electromagnetic waves emitted by high-output radars on their health. They also question the wisdom of hastily trying to deploy such missile defense systems as the tension between the United States and North Korea has eased.

Meanwhile, the total cost of introducing the two Aegis Ashore missile defense systems could come close to 500 billion yen even though the ministry had explained that it would likely spend about 100 billion yen in taxpayers' money to procure one such system.

The amount is expected to initially swell to some 250 billion yen for two such systems because cutting-edge radars will be used. If the cost of procuring missile interceptors is included, the total price tag could balloon to somewhere around 500 billion yen.

Defense Minister Onodera told the July 24 news conference, "I've never mentioned the estimated costs," effectively retracting the Defense Ministry's past explanation of the cost of introducing the Aegis Ashore system.

Yuichiro Tamaki, co-leader of the opposition Democratic Party for the People, criticized the ministry's handling of the issue.

Pointing out that North Korea's launch of ballistic missiles, which is the reason for introducing Aegis Ashore, has been suspended for more than half a year, Tamaki said the government "shouldn't introduce missile defense systems easily while questions have been raised over their necessity."

(Japanese original by Shinichi Akiyama and Shuhei Endo, Political News Department)

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