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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe speaking during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office on June 18, 2020. (Photo: Screenshot of Cabinet Public Relations Office of Japan)

Caught by surprise, Japan suspended its coveted land-based homeland missile defense system, the Aegis Ashore sites. This system would give persistent 24/7 ballistic missile defense for the population of Japan against the current and growing threat of North Korean missiles.

On Monday this week, the Japanese Minister of Defense Taro Kono announced the suspension of the two Aegis Ashore sites being built in Japan that were to provide persistent ballistic missile defense of Japan and its population .

“I made a decision on Friday to suspend the process… For the time being, Japan will continue to counter (the threat) with Aegis-equipped ships.” – Japanese Minister of Defense Taro Kono on June 15, 2020.

Japan is one of the United States’ most capable and reliable allies. The 75 year partnership is a cornerstone of the strategic stability in the Pacific and has assured the defense and security of Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK), Taiwan, and East Asia. The partnership is the vital lynchpin of all other U.S. alliances and partnerships in the region. Beyond East Asia, the U.S.-Japan partnership is critically important to other allies in the Indo-Pacific like Australia, New Zealand, India, and Pacific Island nations who partner closely with Japan and have shared concerns about countering Chinese and North Korean aggressive behavior in the region.

Japan burden sharing support to the U.S. Treasury is more than any other United States ally. Japan provides home porting and basing for the U.S. 7th Fleet, the U.S. 5th Air Force, U.S. Army Japan, and III Marine Expeditionary Force, and pays 75% of their overall costs of $5.87 billion per year. Around 54,000 American service men and women across over 85 American bases are stationed in Japan today. Japan by constitutional law cannot have offensive forces and is restricted to defensive forces which they have in place with the Japanese Self Defense Force made up of an air, ground, and maritime components. They somehow maintain some of the most “offensively capable” defensive forces of any of our allies. All three of these Japanese Self Defense branches have their own missile defense systems.

Japan is our most capable and most committed ally in the Pacific in terms of air and missile defense development and deployment. Unique among our allies – Japan has high technology (fourth and fifth generation) forces in significant numbers – and this capability is grounded in a lot of U.S. supplied systems like F-35s, F-15s, E-2Ds, AEGIS ships, Patriot, MV-22s, C-130s, P-3s etc. Missile defense is one of the many ways Japan shares the burden, spending over $1B to jointly perform research and development of the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA missile defense interceptor, which is the most advanced interceptor carried aboard U.S. Navy and Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force ships. Japan also licenses Patriot air and missile defense systems, including the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) interceptor, in cooperation with U.S. companies.

It is in the best interest of the United States, for Japan to have the ability to protect both Japan and the U.S. forces based there in a crisis, particularly since the eastern Pacific is seeing a persistent increase in the number and intensity of crises. Last week, North Korea reoccupied demilitarized areas and blew up a multi-million dollar liaison office, adding to its continual and recent  missile testing against United Nations resolutions and sanctions. Russia is deploying three of its new hypersonic missile equipped frigates to their Pacific Fleet and unveiled its new anti-ship missile. The People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) and Air Force (PLAAF) have repeatedly violated the air space and integrity of Taiwan in the Taiwan Strait, Japan in the Senkaku Islands, and the Philippines and Vietnam in the South China Sea. China has over the last year expanded its ballistic and hypersonic missile capabilities with the operationalization of two new nuclear ballistic missile submarines as well as the unveiling of the DF-100 hypersonic, theater level anti-ship missile, DF-17 conventional missile and DF-ZF hypersonic glide body, and the DF-41 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). China in the last year has also increased its nuclear warhead stockpile from 290 warheads to 320. These military developments are part of a Chinese strategy to overmatch its neighbors (and U.S. forward deployed forces) in capacity and capability and are integrated with economic efforts such as predatory lending under the One Belt, One Road initiative to create dependencies and overpower neighbors into appeasement without conflict.

The missile threat facing the U.S. and Japan is substantial with North Korea and China adding to their missile arsenals and developing new capabilities. The U.S. and Japanese missile defense capabilities must keep pace with this threat. Continued deep collaboration between the U.S. and Japan should remain a central element in the alliance relationship and will allow both nations to share the cost and burden of providing this essential defense capability needed to deter and defend against attack from North Korea and China. Furthermore, close collaboration is needed to maintain the highest standards of interoperability between U.S. and Japanese forces so they can operate effectively during a crisis.

“We should renew our discussion of adequate deterrence we need, considering North Korea’s missile technology that has advanced since the time we introduced our missile defense systems,” – Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on June 18, 2020.

The U.S. will work with Japan to help them solve the technological issues associated with Aegis Ashore and help review the budget trade-offs between providing persistent AEGIS defense with land-based systems versus ship based systems so Japan can move forward to the correct long term solution. It is imperative for the Japanese-U.S. relationship to not allow a technical and cost challenge to develop into a political crack that China, Russia and North Korea would seek to exploit.

Undoubtedly, this pause will allow both nations to collectively do a deep dive on how we best together develop, integrate, and deploy the most effective air and missile defense capabilities to negate, deter and defend from North Korea and China.

The Japanese-American alliance will remain solid and our security and prosperity will remain linked together.

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MDAA’s mission is to make the world safer by advocating for the development and deployment of missile defense systems to defend the United States, its armed forces and its allies against missile threats.

MDAA is the only organization in existence whose primary mission is to educate the American public about missile defense issues and to recruit, organize, and mobilize proponents to advocate for the critical need of missile defense. We are a non-partisan membership-based and membership-funded organization that does not advocate on behalf of any specific system, technology, architecture or entity.