The island nation of Japan is one of Kim Jong Un’s prime targets. The Pacific Rim trading center is a huge industrial and military target, close enough for any of the missiles in North Korea’s arsenal to rain devastation on from the sky. The North Korean threat escalated to a new level of provocation yesterday after the latest bid by Kim Jong Un for attention by launching a missile directly over Japan’s head. This reckless act only serves to underscore the nation’s need to improve its defenses. Plans for an upgraded missile defense system have been on the drawing board but one crucial U.S. approval has not yet been granted.
Japan’s Okinawa island is the site of Kadena Air Base, which according to Wikipedia, “is home to the USAF’s 18th Wing, the 353d Special Operations Group, reconnaissance units, 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery, and a variety of associated units.” More than 20,000 American troops, along with family members, and Japanese supporting employees live or work at the Base.
Just yesterday, Japan was forced to sound the alarms sending citizens to scramble for shelter. In an act Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned as “reckless” and “unprecedented,” North Korea fired an intermediate range missile right over Hokkaido island, which is in the Northern part of the chain. The rocket splashed harmlessly into the sea after a flight of 1,700 miles.
As soon as the projectile entered Japanese territory, TV screens lit up with banners and warnings. Trains were stopped in their tracks as the entire Japanese population ran for cover. The missiles Kim Jong Un keeps lobbing in their direction are not the only thing Japanese Defense officials are worried about, Washington is wary to provide key radar technology, even to an ally as close as Japan.
In order to counter recent quantum leaps in North Korea’s missile technology, Japan is building a sophisticated missile defense shield. The equipment to target and destroy incoming ICBM’s is designed as a land based installation of the Aegis ballistic missile defense (BMD) system, used today from ships. Even working around the clock with the program on highest priority, the soonest the Japanese can expect to have the next generation array online is about six years from now, in 2023.
The new “Aegis Ashore” system features improved SM-3 defensive missiles that have around twice the range of current missiles and have the capability to hit just about anything North Korea might use. The problem is that current radar technology can’t keep up. Even though an incoming missile can be intercepted at high altitude, the radar won’t detect the threat until it is much lower.
Japan was treated to a demonstration of the brand new U.S. “Spy-6” radar device, to see in action the way it “boosts the range of BMD radars dozens of times.” The quick sniff officials got, as the ultra-high-tech radar system was waved under their nose, only made them hungry for more. “So far all we have got to do is smell the eel,” One official grumbled. Fried eel is considered tasty in Japan.
Informal requests to utilize the new technology were made right after the demonstration but a formal agreement never materialized. Japan can’t place an order for the Aegis Ashore base units until it knows exactly what it is paying for, and what the final price tag will be.
The U.S. provided many assurances that defense commitments are rock solid. Our newest Ambassador to Japan, William Hagerty, called our security partnership the “greatest on earth” when he met with Shinzo Abe for the first time on Aug 18. America’s highest ranking General, Joseph Dunford, called the partnership between the two nations, “Ironclad.” Despite this, Pentagon sources say regarding the Spy-6 radar, “There is no guarantee that Japan is going to get it.”
One source, with ties to the Pentagon, explains that the Navy supports sharing the information but brass in the Missile Defense Agency are dragging their feet. MDA has the final say and word around the campfire is that there is no way anyone, even one of America’s closest allies, is going to get a chance to play with it until we get it up and working ourselves and have an opportunity to shake the bugs out.
The first U.S. Spy-6 installation is slated to go into a warship based Aegis unit but won’t be ready for action until 2022. In order for system manufacturers Lockheed Martin and Raytheon to incorporate the technology into the planned Japanese design, Tokyo would need permission far in advance of 2022.
The gap in technology has the practical effect of limiting the BMD system to the point of making it “much less capable” of successfully intercepting a threat. The overall system can still be built using existing technology, then upgraded when Spy-6 becomes available. Doing the project in stages like that would affect the price tag in a huge way.
Current plans call for the construction of two batteries of Aegis Ashore equipment. Each will cost about $700 million. Interceptor missiles are not included in the base price and are available at a bulk discount of $30 million dollars each. Without advance permission to use the new technology, much of the system would need to be replaced for an upgrade. Unless American officials okay the Spy-6 Radar for use in the Japanese system soon, the country’s taxpayers may be looking at having to build the entire contraption twice.