December 15, 2005

Japan to pay up to $1.2 bln for missile project

By Teruaki Ueno

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan plans to spend up to $1.2 billion
for an ambitious project to develop a next-generation
interceptor missile with the United States, Japanese defense
ministry officials said on Thursday.

Development of the upgraded version of the Standard
Missile-3 (SM-3) will cost about $2.1 billion to $2.7 billion
over nine years, of which $1 billion to $1.2 billion will
likely be paid for by Japan, the Japanese defense ministry
officials said.

The jointly developed missile, which the officials said
would likely go into production around 2016, will be installed
on U.S. and Japanese destroyers equipped with Aegis combat

The officials said the United States was expected to spend
about $1.1 billion to $1.5 billion for the project.

But they said Japan and the United States had yet to reach
an agreement on details of the project including funding.

Details of the joint development program were expected to
be decided within several days, the officials said.

Japan and the United States began joint research on the
next-generation missile defense system shortly after North
Korea test-fired a missile over Japan in 1998.

Tokyo has spent about 26 billion yen ($221.2 million) for
joint research on the system, and the defense ministry planned
to set aside about 3 billion yen next year for the project to
develop the advanced interceptor missile.

Tokyo eased a blanket ban on arms exports last year to open
the way for joint development of a missile shield.

Experts say it would take only about 10 minutes for a North
Korean missile to reach Japan.

North Korea has criticized Tokyo's plans as a provocation
and other countries in the region including China and Russia
have expressed concern that the missile shield will be used to
keep their military capabilities in check.

Japanese officials have said establishment of a missile
defense system is in line with Japan's policy of keeping its
military activities and capabilities purely defensive.

Japan decided in 2003 to buy a missile defense system from
the United States based on the Patriot 3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air

This system will be deployed from around 2010.

Defense experts say such joint arms projects are vital to
keeping Japan's defense capabilities up to date at an
affordable cost, while critics worry that such moves could
tarnish Japan's postwar pacifist image and unsettle its Asian
neighbors. Japan's 1947 pacifist constitution has been
interpreted as allowing a military, but strictly for
self-defense. The government has been stretching that
restriction, most recently with a decision to send about 550
soldiers to help rebuild Iraq.

($1=117.53 Yen)