U.S., Japan to Start Deploying Missile Interceptors

By Anthony Faiola
Washington Post Foreign Service
Friday, July 21, 2006

TOKYO, July 20 -- The United States and Japan will begin deploying American-made anti-missile systems on Japanese soil next month amid growing concern about North Korean arms, officials announced Thursday.

In addition to the deployment of the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 system -- the ballistic missile interceptors known as PAC-3 -- the Pentagon will dispatch 600 specially trained troops from Fort Bliss, Tex., to a U.S. base in southern Japan.

The PAC-3 will initially be deployed on American military sites; Japanese officials said they would deploy it on their own Self-Defense Forces bases for the first time by March. A Defense Ministry official said the rollout would begin at Iruma Air Base just west of Tokyo, spreading to three other nearby bases by 2007. Japan intends to keep deploying the system at several more military installations throughout the country through 2010.

North Korea's most sophisticated missile -- a Taepodong-2 with an estimated range as far as the continental United States-- failed moments after liftoff during a test this month. The North Koreans successfully test-fired six short- and medium-range missiles, all of them capable of reaching any part of Japan, including U.S. bases here.

"In view of the development, deployment and proliferation of ballistic missiles in the region, and the clear and present threats such as the recent missile launches by North Korea in particular, the Government of Japan will continue to do its utmost to build up its ballistic missile defense capabilities in close cooperation with the United States," the Japanese Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

U.S. military officials said the Pentagon planned to relocate the Patriot-equipped Air Defense Artillery Battalion from Fort Bliss to the U.S. Kadena Air Base and the nearby munitions storage area on Okinawa island. Japanese officials said the system is scheduled to be at least partially operational by year's end.

Japanese officials said they were consulting with local authorities in Okinawa -- who have been highly critical of the U.S. military presence there -- about the additional U.S. troops required to operate the system. But the officials also said the plan would move ahead with or without local blessings.

The PAC-3 system is designed to intercept incoming ballistic missiles in their final phase and will form a key part of the broader missile defense shield being co-developed by the United States and Japan. Some experts have questioned the success rate of the PAC-3 system in testing, saying it still requires fine-tuning.

Additionally, the Japanese are to deploy the Standard Missile 3 interceptor missile, which will be based aboard Japanese Aegis-class destroyers.

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