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Change lax approach, restore public trust in Aegis Ashore deployment

The Yomiuri ShimbunThe latest case of an erroneous survey result seems to show a lack of proper awareness that a new missile defense project is meant to establish important security policy-related facilities. The Defense Ministry must gravely reflect on its mistake and strive to restore the trust it has lost.

There were errors in the results of a survey conducted in connection with a plan to newly introduce Aegis Ashore, a ground-based missile interception system, for ballistic missile defense purposes.

The ministry surveyed 19 locations, with a view to selecting an alternative site to the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Araya Training Area in the city of Akita. It concluded all these places would be “unsuitable” for that objective. In stating a reason for that assertion, the ministry said, among other things, that mountains near these spots would obstruct missile-detecting radar. However, it has been found that there would be no hindrance to directing radar in some locations.

The mistake in question is said to have happened when ministry personnel used the wrong reduced scales in sketching topographical features of the locations’ cross sections, by using web mapping services. The fault was due to a lack of careful attention. The ministry may inevitably be viewed as having treated the survey perfunctorily, because it treated the Araya exercise area as a foregone conclusion in selecting a spot for the deployment of an Aegis Ashore installation.

In addition, a ministry employee dozed off during a meeting held in Akita to explain the matter to local residents. This must be deemed an act of insincerity. The ministry’s organizational laxity is serious.

Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya visited the Akita prefectural government’s office, where he apologized for the series of problems tied to the case, which he described as “impermissible.” He indicated his intention to conduct new geographical surveys at the proposed locations, and submit their results anew.

Listen to local communities

Akita Gov. Norihisa Satake criticized the errors, saying, “The Defense Ministry’s work will be starting from a deficit,” and urged Iwaya to improve his ministry’s response to the matter. The governor had every reason to do so.

To establish missile launch and other facilities , the ministry intends to acquire tracts of land owned by the prefectural government in the vicinity of the training site, so the current site will be expanded. This will also require wind-power generation facilities to be relocated. Gaining cooperation from the prefectural government is indispensable in this respect.

The ongoing plan would set up an Aegis Ashore installation in one location each in Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures, with a view to covering all parts of Japan.

North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats remain unchanged. Given that China and Russia are also developing various missiles, there is great significance to facilitating preparedness to cope with simultaneous multiple missile attacks in districts along the Sea of Japan.

The plan will also make it possible to flexibly operate Maritime Self-Defense Force Aegis-equipped destroyers so as to be vigilant against ballistic missiles.

The government should appropriately explain the significance and aim of deploying the Aegis Ashore system, thereby giving the public a better understanding of the plan.

In the locations proposed for the deployment of Aegis Ashore installations, there are concerns about possible problems arising from the system. They include anxiety about a situation in which these places could be singled out as targets of attacks in the event of a military emergency. Another matter of concern is harm to people’s health resulting from electric waves from radar. The ministry has denied the risk of such health damage.

Although the ministry expects to start operating the system in fiscal 2025, there will likely be delays in that schedule. To get the current arrangements back on their feet, the ministry is set to establish headquarters for promoting the project under the leadership of the state defense minister. It is important to carefully proceed with the plan while paying attention to the wishes of the local communities to be affected.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 18, 2019)Speech



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