Japan has told the United States that it views building specialized ships to counter ballistic missiles as the most viable alternative to the scrapped plan to deploy land-based, U.S.-developed Aegis Ashore systems, government sources said Saturday.

Building vessels equipped with the radar and missile launch system initially destined for Aegis Ashore, whose functions are only limited to countering ballistic missiles, will be cheaper than adding more Aegis-equipped destroyers capable of responding to attacks from fighter jets and submarines as well, the sources said.

The plan emerged as outgoing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to issue a statement by mid-September to explain the government's stance on missile defense, including the possibility of Japan acquiring a strike capability against missile bases in other countries, as Tokyo seeks to review its security policy.

File photo taken on the Hawaiian island of Kauai in January 2019, shows an Aegis Ashore missile-defense system at the Pacific Missile Range Facility of the U.S. Navy. (Kyodo)

As Abe is stepping down due to illness after his successor is chosen, the next prime minister is expected to work out details of the alternative missile defense plan.

Tokyo abruptly scrapped plans in June to deploy the Aegis Ashore missile defense systems in Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures due to additional costs for the updates necessary to ensure safety.

The Abe administration has pushed for Aegis Ashore deployment to counter missile threats from North Korea.

The use of the land-based missile defense system was also intended to reduce the burden of Maritime Self-Defense Force personnel on its Aegis-equipped destroyers, but it met with strong opposition from people in the candidate sites.

Photo taken March 19, 2020, from a Kyodo News helicopter shows the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force's seventh Aegis-equipped destroyer, Maya, which was put into commission after it was handed over to the Defense Ministry at a shipyard in Yokohama, near Tokyo, the same day. (Kyodo)

The emerging plan to build specialized ships would not require local consent and curb cancellation fees for Aegis Ashore equipment such as Lockheed Martin Corp.'s SPY-7 radar system, which can be loaded onto the envisioned ships, according to the sources.

"We have almost decided to pursue an offshore (missile defense) plan," a government source said.

The government had weighed other options such as building a maritime platform to accommodate the Aegis Ashore systems but they need local consent.

As North Korea's repeated firings of missiles have raised security concerns, Abe has stressed the need to beef up the country's defense. Debate over Japan's acquisition of a strike capability was revived after the Aegis Ashore deployment was halted.

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party headed by Abe takes the view that such a capability is necessary to defend Japan from ballistic missiles.

The LDP's coalition partner Komeito, however, is cautious about the move, which would undermine the country's long-held policy under the pacifist Constitution to maintain "exclusively defense-oriented" posture.

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