By WENDELL MINNICK, TAIPEI
The United States is offering Tokyo up to 80 Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles for an estimated $99.7 million in Japan’s 2007 budget.
The offer came shortly after the North Korean missile tests July 5. In late July, Japan Defense Agency (JDA) Director Gen. Fukushiro Nukaga sent a letter to U.S. Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld requesting additional PAC-3s beyond those already on order, the Japan Times reported.
“This is a significant move that exercises the U.S.-Japan alliance at multiple levels,” said Lance Gatling, a consultant with Gatling Associates, Tokyo. “Lots of folks in Tokyo and D.C. are burning the midnight oil to get this done quickly. Strategically, both countries are responding quickly and flexibly in a way that shows the growing closeness and strength of the alliance, clearly driven now by missile defense against a possible North Korean threat.”
Japan ordered 16 PAC-3 missiles in 2005 and plans to deploy the first battery at 1st Air Defense Missile Group at Iruma Air Base, Saitama Prefecture, by March 2007, and then later batteries at Kasuga Base in Fukuoka, Gifu Base and Hamamatsu Base, Shizuoka Prefecture, by 2010.
Japan currently has 24 PAC-2 batteries with up to 1,000 missiles divided into six missile groups. The PAC-2s were ordered from the United States in 1984 in a co-production license agreement with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to replace the aging Nike Hercules surface-to-air missiles. Japan’s PAC-1 systems were upgraded to PAC-2 standards.
“Judging from the fact that North Korea has acquired the multiple missile-firing capabilities, Japan is likely to procure many more PAC-3 and SM-3 missiles than expected,” said retired Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Rear Adm. Sumihiko Kawamura. “Japan has been striving to build a multitier missile defense system consisting of the land-based PAC-3 missiles as well as the seaborne SM-3 missiles on board Aegis destroyers.”
Kawamura is founder of The Kawamura Institute, a think tank in Tokyo.
“We should have taken drastic measures for national defense when the Taepodong-1 missile was launched over Japan in 1998,” said Naoki Akiyama, director of the Tokyo-based Congressional National Security Research Group. “Now Japan has realized the threat from North Korea from the recent missile test in July.”
Gatling said the “biggest hurdles” to the PAC-3 request “may be administrative; Japan’s procurement and fiscal policies and procedures are inflexible, and matching that to a U.S. FMS [Foreign Military Sale] system not noted for its efficiency or speed isn’t easy in normal times.”
The U.S. Army made some batch purchases of PAC-3s over the last couple of years, including 156 last year. Of those, 16 are for Japan under earlier FMS agreements.
“Japan planned to buy only these 16, but after the last North Korean incident asked for additional missiles. These missiles are to be delivered by the end of March 2007,” said a Japanese defense source.
“Someone in the U.S. Army decided that those missiles, ordered by the Army a year or two ago, would be more useful fielded in Japan’s experienced Patriot batteries rather than stored at some Army Patriot unit in Kansas,” Gatling said. “This is a good move on all sides.”
U.S. Army officials could not be reached by press time.
Japan already plans to domestically co-produce PAC-3 missiles under license with Raytheon and Lockheed Martin, but sources warn it will take time for Mitsubishi to study the drawing packages from Lockheed, qualify vendors and start up manufacturing.
“The build cycle time is too long for Japan to produce significant numbers, and the U.S. Army Patriot battery deploying to Okinawa won’t be operational for some time to come,” said the Japanese defense source.
The North Korean missile tests July 5 shook Japanese society, but reported signs of possible nuclear tests are more worrisome for the Japanese.
“A test will confirm what has been assumed [North Korean possession of nuclear bombs], and political pressure on the Japanese government to do more than participating in the six-party talks will rise,” said Yoichiro Sato, a professor at the Honolulu-based Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies.
North Korea’s bellicose behavior will encourage Japan to rely on the U.S. nuclear umbrella, step up discussions on some pre-emptive capabilities against North Korean missiles and accelerate deployment of missile defense arsenals, Sato said.