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BMD Focus: Japan's long road on BMD

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by Martin Sieff
UPI Senior News Analyst
Washington (UPI) Aug 17, 2006
The July missile crisis with North Korea revealed that Japan and the United States have surprisingly little coordination in their current ballistic missile defense deployments.

This striking omission was reported in the Japanese press less than two weeks after North Korea test-fired seven missiles on the same day on July 4 in the Sea of Japan, including the unsuccessful test launch of a Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile.

"It may come as a surprise to many, but the (Japanese) government does not have plans in place to enable U.S. armed forces and the SDF (Japanese Self Defense Forces) to work jointly to protect the country from a ballistic missile attack," the widely respected defense reporter Hidemichi Katsumata wrote in the Tokyo newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun on July 14, 10 days after the North Korean tests.

The lack of joint interoperability plans and expertise was already known to both the U.S. and Japanese missile defense commands before the July 4 tests, Katsumata wrote. It was "highlighted by the Japan-U.S. joint command drill that was conducted at the Defense Agency and other locations in February," he reported.

That computerized, or virtual reality, test began with the scenario that U.S. armed forces had detected that North Korea had felled its ballistic missiles -- exactly the scenario that in fact occurred at the end of June, Katsumata wrote.

In the February simulation, Japan declared an alert in the areas surrounding it. But hostile missiles still flew into Japan and "even under this scenario, the government did not order the mobilization of the SDF to defend the country -- Ground Self-Defense Force troops were only ordered to assist people in areas actually hit by the missiles," Katsumata wrote.

"At present, no one knows how many missiles have to strike the country before the government issues a defense mobilization order to deploy SDF troops," a senior Defense Agency official told the reporter. "And we don't know under what circumstances the government will declare alerts in areas surrounding the country. We just don't know what the government's policies are," he said.

This lack of adequate planning is particularly striking for two reasons: First, it is approaching the end of Junichiro Koizumi's momentous five-year stint as Japan's prime minister and leader of the Ruling Liberal Democratic Party.

During these past five years, the strongly pro-American Koizumi has moved heaven and earth to lock Japan into potentially far-reaching missile development and eventually the home production of a state-of-the-art ballistic missile defense system. The program has provided a gigantic shot in the arm for America's main high-tech defense contractors, led by Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon. And it also offers Japanese industry the possibility of a jump-start in crucial cutting-edge technologies such as laser research, rocketry and missile IT and software, where it has long lagged.

Major agreements that have been concluded between the Japanese Self Defense Forces and the U.S. Department of Defense. U.S. warships, including destroyers and cruisers armed with the Aegis radar detection system and Standard Missile-3s, or SM-3s, for short range missile interception, have been deployed to defend Japan. U.S. and Japanese conventional forces have engaged in joint defense exercises for decades.

Yet despite all these developments, the crucial plans to rapidly activate the defense of Japan involving already deployed U.S. naval forces and other U.S. ballistic missile defense assets have yet to be worked out in detail, according to Katsumata.

The second reason Katsumata's report was so striking was because while Koizumi, the visionary architect of the BMD partnership between Washington and Tokyo, must indeed step down soon, it is not clear who is his successor will be.

Koizumi may yet manage to win out in choosing his own successor over the old, cautious establishment, or "grey men" of the LDP who ran Japan for the decade before he took power, in choosing his own successor. But even if he does, the next prime minister is unlikely to inherit the current one's driving will and laser-like visionary focus on BMD development.

Therefore, the development of operational joint plans between the Japanese and U.S. armed forces for the missile defense of the Japanese homeland from future North Korean missile threats may only advance very slowly, if at all, once Koizumi leaves office.

Katsumata noted that even with Koizumi at the helm, the Japanese government and bureaucracy were not implementing the rapid-fire decision-making processes needed to make BMD inter-operability a tactical reality. By contrast, he wrote, the U.S. armed forces were moving much more energetically to establish the physical and command infrastructures needed to defend Japan.

"In June, the U.S. military installed a high-performance radar at the Air Self-Defense Force's Shariki Base in Aomori Prefecture that is capable of tracking missiles," he wrote.

"In late August, the U.S. Navy is scheduled to deploy the USS Shiloh to Yokosuka Naval Base in Kanagawa Prefecture. The Shiloh is equipped with Standard Missile-3 interceptor missiles capable of shooting down North Korea's Rodong missiles."

The U.S. military recently transported 24 Patriot Advanced Capability 3 surface-to-air missiles to the Kadena Air Base in Okinawa Prefecture, according to a U.S. news report.

However, "it will take the government several years to arm four Maritime Self-Defense Force Aegis-vessels with SM-3 missiles, which are capable of shooting down ballistic missiles," Katsumata wrote.

"The government should therefore map out as soon as possible a joint Japan-U.S. strategy to prepare for a possible missile attack. Determining what roles U.S. forces and SDF troops can play, and what they are allowed to do, the government could help to deter North Korea," he concluded.

Source: United Press International

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