Japan approves purchase of US missile defense system to counter North Korea threat

Japan approves purchase of US missile defense system to counter North Korea threat
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Japan on Tuesday formally approved the purchase of a U.S.-made, land-based missile defense system to counter an increasing threat from North Korea.

“North Korea’s nuclear missile development poses a new level of threat to Japan and as we have done in the past we will ensure that we are able to defend ourselves with a drastic improvement in ballistic missile defense,” a statement issued by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's Cabinet said, according to multiple reports.

The Cabinet approved a proposal to build two Aegis Ashore batteries, a move that was widely expected.

The sites will likely cost at least $2 billion without the missiles, according to Reuters, and are expected to be operational around 2023 at the earliest.

Japan already has Aegis capability on four warships, as well as Patriot missile defense batteries, but the Aegis Ashore system is meant to add another layer of defenses.

Last month, North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile that appeared to put the entire United States in range and appeared to be out of range of Japan’s current missile defenses. North Korea earlier this year also conducted two missile tests that flew over Japan.

The Lockheed Martin-made Aegis Ashore is geared toward intercepting short- to intermediate-range ballistic missiles. Lockheed describes the system as a “sophisticated collection of phased-array radars, fire control directors, computers and missiles.”

Japan will be the third host of the system, which is already operational in Romania and being built in Poland.

Japanese officials have said the country was interested in the Aegis Ashore, as opposed to the U.S.-made Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD), because it is cheaper and more versatile. Japanese defense officials told The Associated Press they would need at least six THAAD batteries, at $1.1 billion each, to defend the country.

The deployment of THAAD to South Korea also stirred up controversy with China, which considers the system’s powerful radars a threat to its security.