Japan Scraps Plan for Land-Based US Missile Defense System

June 25, 2020 Updated: June 25, 2020

TOKYO—Japan’s Defense Ministry said on June 22 that it has decided to stop unpopular plans to deploy two land-based U.S. missile defense systems aimed at bolstering the country’s capability against threats from North Korea.

Defense Minister Taro Kono told reporters that he decided to “stop the deployment process” of the Aegis Ashore systems after it was found that the safety of one of the two planned host communities couldn’t be ensured without a hardware redesign that would be too time-consuming and costly.

“Considering the cost and time it would require, I had no choice but to judge that pursuing the plan is not logical,” Kono said.

The Japanese government in 2017 approved adding the two missile defense systems to bolster the country’s current defenses consisting of Aegis-equipped destroyers at sea and Patriot missiles on land.

Defense officials have said the two Aegis Ashore units could cover Japan entirely from one station at Yamaguchi in the south and another at Akita in the north. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government will now have to reconsider Japan’s missile defense program.

The plan to deploy the two missile defense systems already had faced a series of setbacks, including questions about the selection of one of the sites, repeated cost estimate hikes that climbed to 450 billion yen ($4.1 billion) for their 30-year operation and maintenance, and safety concerns that led to local opposition.

Critics have claimed that the systems were to intercept long-range North Korean missiles from hitting Guam or Hawaii rather than for Japan’s self-defense, possibly interfering with the country’s war-renouncing constitution.

Kono said that Japan had already spent 180 billion yen ($1.7 billion) for the systems, but that not everything will go to waste because the system is compatible with those used on Japanese destroyers.

It was ultimately the inability to guarantee the safety of the community in Yamaguchi that was the deal-breaker. Defense officials had promised that any boosters used to intercept a missile flying over Japan would fall only on a military base there, and ensuring a safe fall of boosters to the base was proving impossible with the current design of the systems, Kono said.

Japan chose Aegis Ashore over a Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense, or THAAD, system because of its versatility and lower cost. The deployment of THAAD in South Korea triggered protests from China, with Beijing seeing it as a security threat.

The United States has installed the land-based Aegis Ashore in Romania and Poland, and Japan was to be the third country to host the system.

By Mari Yamaguchi