TOKYO Oct 17 Japan may accelerate around $1
billion of planned spending to upgrade its ballistic missile
defences in the wake of rocket tests suggesting North Korea is
close to fielding a more potent medium-range missile, three
government sources told Reuters.
The outlays, currently in a budget request for the year
starting April, includes money to assess a new missile defence
layer - either Lockheed Martin Corp's Terminal High
Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system or Aegis Ashore, a
land-based version of the ballistic missile defence system used
by vessels in the Sea of Japan.
It also covers money to improve the range and accuracy of
PAC-3 Patriot batteries, said the sources familiar with the
proposal, who asked not to be identified because they are not
authorised to talk to the media.
Any rollout of THAAD or Aegis Ashore could, however, still
take years, the sources noted. Accelerated spending on Patriot
missile batteries is also unlikely to deliver upgrades much
quicker because of the limited capacity of the companies
involved - Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Raytheon Co
- to speed up already tight production schedules.
"It nonetheless has symbolic value," said one of the
As much as 300 billion yen ($2.9 billion) of defence funding
will be included in a third supplementary budget, the Sankei
newspaper reported earlier. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's
government has yet to say whether it will ask lawmakers to
approve additional outlays before deliberations begin on next
Officials at Japan's Ministry of Defence were not
immediately available to comment.
Pyongyang's apparent technological progress on missiles has
been faster than anticipated, exposing Japan to a heightened
threat, a senior Japanese military commander told Reuters
earlier this month.
Tokyo and Pyongyang have been locked in an arms race for two
decades after North Korea fired a missile over Japan in 1998.
North Korea has test fired at least 21 ballistic missiles
and conducted two nuclear tests so far this year. On June 22, a
medium range Musudan rocket reached an altitude of 1,000 km (620
miles) on a lofted trajectory, potentially beyond the range of
Aegis destroyers the Sea of Japan that are armed with SM-3
missiles designed to hit warheads at the edge of space.
That leaves older PAC-3 Patriot missiles protecting major
cities including Tokyo as a last line of defence. Their upgrade
program will not deliver the first improved batteries until the
2020, in time for the Tokyo Olympics.
Warheads from missiles such as Pyongyang's Rodong, with an
estimated range of 1,300 km (810 miles), travel at speeds of up
to 3 km (2 miles) a second. Payloads on rockets like the
Musudan, that can fly as far as 3,000 km (1,860 miles), plunge
from space at least twice as fast.
Japan next year plans to acquire a more powerful version of
the SM-3 it is jointly developing with the United States, dubbed
the Block IIA. It has not, however, said when the first will be
($1 = 102.9000 yen)
(Editing by Lincoln Feast)