Tokyo: Japan is moving closer to the deployment of a US missile system which is set to further escalate tensions in the region.
Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said Tokyo does not intend to immediately introduce the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, and that military authorities are “considering what can be done.”
“Although there is no specific plan to introduce the THAAD, the introduction of the new equipment will lead to strengthening Japan’s ability” in terms of dealing with possible ballistic missile threats, he added.
Tokyo has established a commission led by State Minister of Defense Kenji Wakamiya to examine the pros and cons of the advance interceptor system which is due to report its findings by next summer.
Moreover, the defense minister plans to visit a US military base in Guam next month to inspect the THAAD systems at work, Japanese media reported this week.
Japan already has a two-layer ballistic missile system. Ship-based SM-3 interceptors target missiles in space and land-based PAC-3 batteries aim to intercept them as they near the ground.
THAAD is said to be capable of intercepting missiles in or outside the earth’s atmosphere.
The development comes after South Korea agreed earlier this year to deploy THAAD batteries on its territory, citing concerns over the North Korean missile threat, despite objections from China and Russia.
US will provide South Korea with THAAD batteries at the cost of nearly $1.3 billion per unit, according to South Korean press reports.
South Koreans have protested, citing safety fears over the system’s sophisticated radar and its potential to be a wartime target.
Japanese media reports say the deployment of THAAD will cost the nation hundreds of billions of yen with no suggestions as to how it may be funded.
Russian media reported on Tuesday that the country had deployed Bastion and Bal anti-ship missile systems on the islands also claimed by Japan.
The islands are part of an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean over which Russia and Japan have staked rival claims for 70 years.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the deployment is “regrettable”. His comments came less than a month before Russian President Vladimir Putin is to visit Japan for talks aimed at progress on the decades-old territorial row.