Japan explores preemptive-strike option as Aegis Ashore alternative
Nikkei -- Jun 25
Japanese officials will explore the development of preemptive-strike capabilities against enemy rocket launchers as a less-costly alternative to the Aegis Ashore missile shield, Nikkei has learned.

The preemptive-strike option emerged as the National Security Council met Wednesday to reaffirm the suspension of the Aegis Ashore program. With Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in attendance, Defense Minister Taro Kono reported that the deployment of the missile shield to Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures has been shelved.

After putting the long-delayed and costly American-developed Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system on hold permanently, the ruling Liberal Democratic Party is assembling a team to look at alternatives, including the preemptive strike option. The LDP will submit a recommendation next month to the central government.

Alternatives to Aegis Ashore include expanding the fleet of Aegis-equipped warships or building artificial megafloat structures to stage Aegis systems offshore. But both options involve massive spending.

Unlike the high cost and lack of reliability of shooting down rockets in flight, striking launch facilities beforehand would be cheaper and easier, say some in defense circles. The LDP floated similar proposals in 2013 and 2018 when discussing revisions to the national defense program.

Japan is considered the "shield" in its long military alliance with Washington, often called a "sword and shield" relationship. The U.S. is the "sword" that launches attacks while Tokyo focuses on defense. But that security concept has come into question as of late.

"This is not a security environment where we can simply attach the 'sword and shield' characterization," Japanese Foreign Minister Toshimitsu Motegi said Tuesday.

There is already a plan for acquiring hardware capable of preemptive strikes. The defense ministry decided to introduce long-range cruise missiles to the arsenal in 2017.

The missiles, which have a range of 900 km, would be fired from Japan Air Self-Defense Force fighter jets. The government, however, maintains the missiles are not for the purpose of attacking enemy bases. Some in the LDP have argued in favor of possessing land and sea-based cruise missiles.

News source: Nikkei
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