Japan Weighs THAAD System for Missile Defense
By Wendell Minnick
TAIPEI — Japan is considering procurement of Lockheed Martin’s Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to augment its ballistic missile defense (BMD) program, the Japanese-language Mainichi Daily newspaper reported on July 5.
BMD analysts and Lockheed Martin are taking the Japanese report seriously.
“Several countries have expressed interest in acquiring the THAAD system,” said Cheryl Amerine, a spokeswoman for Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control. “Lockheed Martin anticipates a strong future for THAAD in the international marketplace and looks forward to providing this critical capability to our allies, consistent with U.S. government policy.”
Japan’s BMD network comprises sea-based Standard Missile-3 (SM3) systems, which are being outfitted on four Kongo-class Aegisequipped destroyers, and landbased Patriot PAC-3 air defense missile systems.
“THAAD is a gap filler, literally, as there is a serious seam between what Aegis and other longer-range systems can intercept and the point defense anti-missile capabilities of Patriot,” said Paul Giarra, president of Washington-based Global Strategies & Transformation.
North Korea has largely been the catalyst for Japan’s BMD program over the past 10 years.
“Frankly, it wouldn’t make any sense for Japan not to acquire it. They have an unpredictable and menacing neighbor,” said Peter Woolley, author of the book “Geography and Japan’s Strategic Choices.”
On July 4, North Korea launched seven short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan. On July 2, North Korea launched four antiship cruise missiles.
Tokyo has been taking Pyongyang’s saber rattling seriously since the launch of a long-range ballistic missile that flew over Japan in August 1998. North Korea ramped up missile tests in July 2006 with the launch of seven missiles, including a new Taepondong-2 longrange ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan. It then conducted its first underground nuclear test in October 2006 and a second on May 25.
“Exactly what danger North Korea poses with its missiles is unknown, but it is potentially huge,” Woolley said. “Thus, it’s a huge risk not to prepare by layering missile defenses.”
A layered defense appears to be the direction Japan is pursuing, particularly with pressure from pacifist groups to slow or stop efforts to develop a first-strike option against North Korean missile sites.
There also are concerns that Japan’s BMD program has large holes in it.
“In short, I think the Japanese adding THAAD will provide them a layered missile defense capability in the context of the circumstances they face,” said H. Baker Spring, a national security policy fellow at the Washington-based Heritage Foundation.
“The SM-3 provides a midcourse layer, THAAD provides an upper-tier terminal layer [both endo- and exo-atmospheric], and Patriot provides a lower-tier terminal defense.”
“THAAD can accept cues from Aegis, satellites and other external sensors to further extend the battlespace and defended area coverage,” Amerine said. “THAAD will operate in concert with the lowertier PAC-3 system to provide increased levels of effectiveness.”
Spring agreed the THAAD system can provide off-board sensor data to Aegis ships, “but I worry that the ships’ access to off-board sensor data is not as seamless as it could [or] should be.”
He said both the United States and Japan “need to work to improve data access.” One solution would be for Japan to procure a “future model SM-3 that provides either a boost- or ascent-phase intercept capability.”