By Satoshi Ogawa / Yomiuri Shimbun CorrespondentWASHINGTON — The U.S. government is considering expanding sales of advanced weapon systems to Japan and South Korea in the face of heightened nuclear and missile threats from North Korea, sources at the U.S. State Department said.
The Washington Times, a conservative U.S. newspaper, reported that the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump is even considering selling Tomahawk cruise missiles to Japan, something it has previously been hesitant to do.
A senior State Department official acknowledged to The Yomiuri Shimbun that the United States is considering expanding arms sales to Japan and South Korea. The official said the department had been instructed by the president to work with Japan and South Korea on drawing up optimal aid policies so Japan and South Korea can meet their legitimate defense needs.
The Japanese government has decided to adopt Aegis Ashore, a cutting-edge missile defense system that is a ground-based version of the Aegis system.
Some Liberal Democratic Party members have said Japan should acquire Tomahawk missiles, which can execute pinpoint attacks on sites such as North Korean missile bases.
Washington is also considering selling weapons including bunker buster bombs, which are capable of destroying underground facilities, to Seoul.
Government welcomes news
The Japanese government welcomed the move that the United States is considering expanding sales of advanced weapon systems.
The government has already asked the United States for cooperation in introducing Aegis Ashore.
“Purchases from the United States are expected to proceed smoothly,” a source close to the Defense Ministry said.
For the time being, the government is prioritizing Aegis Ashore and has decided not to introduce Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).
However, some strongly support acquiring the system. “THAAD is necessary for the defense of Japan,” a senior official at the Self-Defense Forces said.
There is a gap between the defense capabilities of the Aegis and Aegis Ashore systems, which can intercept missiles outside the atmosphere, and the defense capabilities of ground-to-air PAC-3 interceptors, which can strike missiles within about a dozen kilometers of the ground.
THAAD is able to intercept missiles in areas not covered by these systems — outside the atmosphere and in its upper layers. Introducing THAAD would create a three-stage layered intercept system.
The government is also considering adopting the cutting-edge SPY-6 radar system, which the U.S. military is expected to deploy soon. SPY-6 is more advanced than the radar system currently on Aegis-equipped vessels, and is expected to greatly increase missile capture and air defense capacities.
Tomahawk cruise missiles, which are used to attack missile bases on enemy land, would be the main capability for attacking enemy bases, and some in the LDP believe they should be acquired. But the government takes the position that it will not possess the ability as a policy judgment, although it is possible in light of the Constitution.
Tomahawk missiles could also be used against enemies who have occupied a remote island, so the missiles “could be acquired without regard for their ability to attack enemy bases,” a senior Defense Ministry official said.
Nevertheless, such a move would surely be criticized by opposition parties as a reversal of Japan’s exclusively defense-oriented policy.
The question of whether to acquire the ability to attack enemy bases is expected to be hotly debated when revising the National Defense Program Guidelines, which are expected to be compiled at the end of next year.
Others in the ministry are cooler to the idea, citing limited financial resources. Increased procurement from the United States could also take business away from the domestic defense industry, which could harm its ability to develop new weapons.Speech