Govt to Build 2 More Aegis Ships

With an eye on North Korea’s nuclear missile development and China’s maritime expansion, the government plans to build two more Aegis-equipped vessels armed with state-of-the-art interceptor missiles, government sources said.

The National Defense Program Guidelines, which the government will approve by the year-end, will include plans to add the two new Aegis vessels to the six the Maritime Self-Defense Force already possesses. The MSDF has the second largest number of Aegis vessels after the United States.

The Aegis destroyers are a core part of Japan’s ballistic missile defense. Of the six MSDF vessels, four have sea-to-air Standard Missile-3 system and are capable of detecting, tracking and intercepting ballistic missiles in space in cooperation with ground radar.

The remaining two Aegis-equipped vessels will be equipped with SM-3 Block IIA, the next-generation interceptor missiles, which is currently being developed jointly with the United States.
According to the sources, the two Aegis destroyers to be built are expected to be deployed within 10 years, several years after the scheduled completion of the SM-3 Block IIA system in 2017.

The government decided to build the two additional Aegis vessels because it believes North Korea’s nuclear and missile development poses an imminent threat to the nation’s security. Construction of each destroyer will cost about ¥150 billion.

In February, North Korea went ahead with its third nuclear test despite strong opposition from the international community. In December last year, Pyongyang test-fired a long-range ballistic missile. The white paper on defense for 2013 said North Korea’s missile development has entered a new stage.

When North Korea deployed medium-range Musudan missiles on its eastern coast in spring, the Defense Ministry dispatched two Aegis destroyers to the Sea of Japan on a mission lasting for nearly three months. However, they could not be replaced because the two Aegis vessels capable of doing so were undergoing maintenance. As a result, fears rose about the vulnerability of the nation’s defense.

In addition, there is a growing threat from China around the Nansei Islands, including the Senkaku Islands in Ishigaki, Okinawa Prefecture. Although the planned increase of Aegis destroyers is not intended to counter China’s ballistic missiles, Japan will be able to enhance its vigilance and surveillance capabilities against Chinese aircraft and cruise missiles if it dispatches Aegis ships equipped with powerful radar to areas around the Nansei Islands.

An Aegis vessel, which was developed by the U.S. military, is equipped with a system that can detect aircraft, missiles, ships and submarines, and is capable of acquiring and attacking multiple targets simultaneously. Of the six MSDF vessels, the Kongo, Myoko, Chokai and Kirishima are equipped with SM-3 interceptor missiles capable of shooting down ballistic missiles.

The Yomiuri Shimbun [via]

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