Japan halts deployment of Aegis Ashore missile defence system

TOKYO (Reuters) - Japanese Defense Secretary Taro Kono said Monday that he had suspended plans to deploy two Aegis Ashore air defense radar stations manufactured in the United States to detect and combat North Korean ballistic missiles.
Kono told reporters that Japan would stop the operation due to technical issues and costs. Lockheed Martin Co's two proposed radar stations, one in northern Akita Prefecture and the other in Yamaguchi Prefecture in southern Japan, had also met with resistance from local residents.
With radars stronger than the Aegis ship version that Japan already operates, the planned stations should help counteract North Korea's recent missile advances and relieve pressure on Japan's stretched navy.
"I decided on Friday to stay the trial ... Japan will continue to tackle the threat with ships equipped with Aegis equipment for the time being," said Kono.
North Korea, which threatens military action against South Korea, unless it prevents defectors from sending leaflets and other materials to the north, has tested a number of new irregular-trajectory ballistic missiles last year that, according to Japan, penetrate the Aegis defense should.
The two proposed Aegis Ashore systems would cost approximately 439 billion yen ($ 4.1 billion) in operation and maintenance over the next 30 years, according to the Department of Defense.
This price comes when Japan faces an economy weakened by the coronavirus pandemic and unprecedented economic spending that is putting pressure on government finances.
According to the plans, the sites should initially be equipped with SM-3 Block IIA interceptors, which should be used to launch warheads in space. However, Japan has to pay to test these interceptors at a U.S. military test site in Hawaii, which further increases the cost of the Aegis Ashore system.
Tests for the SM-3 Block IIA rockets alone could cost at least $ 500 million, sources with knowledge of the Reuters program said last year.

(Reporting by Takashi Umekawa and Tim Kelly; editing by Tobt Chpra, Raju Gopalakrishnan and Nick Macfie)

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