July 23, 2005

Japan may advance missile shield deployment -paper

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan may start deploying a missile
shield by the end of next March, a year earlier than planned,
to counter the threat of North Korean and Chinese ballistic
missiles, a Japanese daily said on Saturday.

The report came a day after the Japanese parliament
approved legislation that would allow a swifter response to
ballistic missile attacks.

The Yomiuri Shimbun, quoting government sources, said Tokyo
was considering a faster track for deployment so that some of
the missile defense system will be ready when the bill comes
into effect at the end of the fiscal year, which ends in March

It said the plan reflects concerns about the threat of
ballistic missiles held by North Korea, which declared in
February that it possesses nuclear weapons.

Defense Ministry officials were not immediately available
for comment.

Alarm mounted in 1998 when North Korea fired a ballistic
missile over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean, prompting
Tokyo's decision in December 2003 to buy a U.S.-made defense

Under the current plan, the Defense Ministry is to start
deploying Patriot 3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air missiles in late
fiscal 2006/07, which ends in March 2007, Yomiuri said.

In addition, one of Japan's four Aegis destroyers is to be
refitted with SM-3 missiles by the end of 2007.

By the end of fiscal 2010/11, the government wants to have
four missile defense-equipped Aegis destroyers and three PAC-3
units deployed.

An earlier start to such plans, however, may run into some
difficulties, Yomiuri quoted a Defense Ministry source as

"Due to contractual issues there is a possibility that it
could be hard to drastically bring forward PAC-3 or SM-3 that
need to be bought from the United States," a ministry source
was quoted as saying.

To make effective use of the shield, the government crafted
a revision to defense laws that would allow the defense
minister to order the interception of an incoming missile
without seeking approval from the cabinet and security council,
as now required.

The bill was enacted by parliament's upper house on Friday.

Military analysts have said Tokyo would be unable to
respond to a ballistic missile launch by neighboring North
Korea if it used the current procedure since it would take only
around 10 minutes for such a missile to hit Japan.