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Editorial: Japan gov't debate on alternative missile defenses should return to square one

A group of ruling Liberal Democratic Party (LPD) legislators has drawn up a proposal for an alternative solution to the Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system following the Japanese government's abandonment of the controversial plan.

    The group focusing on the national defense issue called for the government to build a new Aegis destroyer vessel equipped with radars and interceptor missile launchers.

    The Aegis Ashore system had originally been aimed at alleviating operating costs and staffing of Aegis destroyers guarding against North Korean ballistic missiles.

    However, as the Defense Ministry scrambled to deploy the system, it attempted to force through the project despite shoddy work when selecting candidate sites and briefing local residents, which led to project setbacks. Careful consideration is needed when devising an alternative solution to the plan.

    The Defense Ministry has already suggested diverting the radars and other systems initially designed for use in the Aegis Ashore system so that they can be operated aboard maritime structures, commercial ships or escort vessels.

    Japan has signed a 178.7-billion-yen (about $1.7 billion) contract with the United States for the purchase of land-based radars and other equipment. The Defense Ministry is insisting on the diversion plan after making the purchases, on the grounds that it would save on cancellation fees.

    However, this is not an issue that can simply be considered under the premise of converting how Aegis Ashore equipment is used.

    The basic conditions for defense equipment operations differ between land and sea, with the latter presenting issues from waves and swells. There is no way we can predict how much time and money it will take to resolve technical challenges arising from that difference.

    If the Aegis Ashore equipment is diverted, the new Aegis destroyer would be equipped with a system unique to Japan. This could force the country to entirely shoulder financial burdens incurred by missile launch testing and fault repairs after the vessel comes into operation.

    The LDP legislators' group also included a proposal to equip the new Aegis destroyer with a new system similar to that used by the U.S. Navy, without employing radars Japan has contracted for.

    This is because the U.S. Navy is proceeding with the building of an Aegis destroyer mounted with different types of radars. If the Japanese destroyer uses the same apparatus, costs for revamping and other purposes could be shared between the two countries, alleviating Japan's burdens. We urge the Japanese government to analyze the cost-benefit from a long-term perspective.

    Meanwhile, the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force continues to suffer serious staff shortages. If Japan is to build a new Aegis vessel, it ought to consider how to secure personnel needed for its operation.

    The Defense Ministry is called on to examine the issue with a clean slate by focusing on necessary equipment and costs. It is not acceptable for the ministry to make a hasty decision based solely on the premise of the diversion plan.

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