August 28, 2006

U.S. missile defense ship arrives in Japan

By Isabel Reynolds

YOKOSUKA, Japan (Reuters) - The USS Shiloh, the first
missile-defense capable ship to be deployed in Japan, arrived
in the port of Yokosuka on Tuesday, eight weeks after North
Korea unnerved the region with a barrage of missile tests.

The deployment of the Shiloh, boasting Standard Missile-3
interceptors for shooting down medium-range ballistic missiles,
is a highly symbolic first step in a joint U.S.-Japanese
program to try to shield Japan and the region from any a
missile attack.

The two allies stressed the significance of the ship's
arrival as an example of the importance the United States
attaches to its security alliance with Japan, although the
chances of preventing a missile attack on the country with a
single vessel are slim.

U.S. and Japanese officials welcomed the 10,000-tonne
cruiser and its 360 crew at a colorful ceremony that included a
Japanese-style taiko drum performance by U.S. sailors.

"The United States remains committed to the defense of
Japan and peace and stability in the western Pacific,," U.S.
Navy Secretary Donald Winter said at the ceremony.

In July, Pyongyang test-fired a series of ballistic
missiles, an incident that drew attention to Japan's lack of
defense systems eight years after Tokyo was spooked by a
previous North Korean ballistic missile test in 1998.

Many analysts, however, have cast doubt on whether missile
defense systems can reliably shoot down incoming missiles, and
they criticize the program for drawing funds away from other
areas of defense spending.

Missile defense accounts for 140 billion yen ($1.2 billion)
of Japan's 4.81 trillion yen ($41 billion) defense budget this

The defense agency plans to seek a record 219 billion yen
for missile defense in the fiscal year from next April 1, Kyodo
news agency reported, although such requests are usually
whittled down in the budget process.

As a second line of defense, the U.S. military will begin
to install Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) interceptors
at its Kadena Air Base on the southern Japanese island of
Okinawa in September and plans to make them partly operational
by the end of the year.

The ship-to-air SM-3 interceptors are designed to shoot
down ballistic missiles in mid-flight, when they fly outside
the earth's atmosphere, while ground-based PAC-3 interceptors
target missiles in their terminal phase, shortly before they
reach their targets.

Japan also plans to install its own missile defense
hardware, including fitting its four Aegis radar
system-equipped warships with SM-3s, but the first of these
ships will not be ready until sometime in the financial year
that starts next April.

Kyodo news agency said the United States had offered to
provide Japan with up to 80 more Patriot missiles, as Japan
seeks to speed up its own deployment of ground-based
interceptor missiles.