Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Wednesday after inspecting a test complex for the land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system in Hawaii that Japan hopes to bolster capability of the system it plans to introduce in the near future.
"We would like to develop (the Aegis Ashore system) into a basic infrastructure that will be helpful in comprehensive missile defense that can (intercept) cruise and other kinds of missiles," he told reporters after visiting the facility on Kauai Island.
The Japanese government aims to start operation of the Aegis Ashore in fiscal 2023 to intercept and destroy ballistic missiles amid the growing North Korean threat. Onodera's remarks on cruise missiles apparently reflected Tokyo's wariness over China, which possesses many long-range cruise missiles.
For early introduction of the Aegis Ashore, the Japanese government set aside around 700 million yen ($6.3 million) in the next fiscal year's budget plan for design costs and research fees.
The defense chief agreed with Lt. Gen. Samuel Greaves, director of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency, to closely cooperate toward an early introduction of the U.S.-developed system in Japan.
Onodera said he did not discuss in detail with Greaves expenses for introducing the Aegis Ashore, but felt U.S. "efforts to reduce the costs."
The Japanese minister also said he was told the Aegis Ashore has no negative impact on the human body and communication devices nearby. The test complex is located at the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai.
The new system will add to Japan's current two tiers of missile defense -- Aegis destroyers equipped with Standard Missile-3 interceptors and ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors.
Two Aegis Ashore batteries are expected to be enough to cover Japan's entire territory, each with a price tag of around 100 billion yen, according to Defense Ministry officials.
Tokyo says a system installed at a stationary site will reduce the workload of the Self-Defense Forces in preparing for missile intercepts, compared to the sea-based operations of destroyers that need to return to port for refueling and other purposes.