President Bush’s announcement that the United States will begin fielding a rudimentary missile defense system based in Alaska and California may spur development of a similar defense system with Japan.

The Bush administration’s plan calls for deploying an initial 10 land-based interceptors in Alaska and California by 2004, according to a Pentagon news release.

After Bush’s announcement, Shigeru Ishiba, Japan’s Defense Agency director general, said his agency would study moving Japan’s missile defense program from its current research stage to the development stage. Ishiba told Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld of this change during U.S.-Japan meetings in Washington earlier this month, Defense Agency spokesman Ichiro Imaizumi told Stars and Stripes.

The United States and Japan have been conducting joint missile defense technical research studies for several years.

The plan — including whether U.S. and Japanese militaries would sit side by side to monitor Pacific Asia for missile threats — still is under consideration, Imaizumi said.

Continued cooperation is likely, he indicated, noting that the United States appears closest to launching a satellite able to detect the heat missiles emit when launched. However, he predicted, implementation likely will not be soon.

No political consensus has emerged in Tokyo over how far or fast to develop a joint ballistic missile defense system, Imaizumi noted.

A 2001 RAND think tank report argued that Japan’s stance toward missile defense could pose significant problems for the U.S.-Japan alliance.

Japan has two reasons to pursue missile defense, the RAND report stated: the North Korean threat and U.S. requests for cooperation.

But working against Japanese participation, the report said, are the high cost, constitutional and legal constraints and questions about whether any such system would work.

The status of the Japan-U.S. ballistic missile system research program still is in the study and research stage, Imaizumi said.

“Just because there was an announcement made by North Korea to resume its nuclear power program, does not immediately lead to missile defense,” Imaizumi said. “It could be a starting point.”

But, he added, the announcement itself may have generated more need for the missile defense system.

Imaizumi noted that Ishiba has said Japan must examine the cost of developing a missile defense system with the United States.

He said Ishiba’s comments following the Rumsfeld meeting marked the first time anybody in Japan’s government has discussed possibly developing and deploying a missile defense system.

But Japan’s ability to field a working system may be linked to the U.S. program’s success or failure, say some critics of the U.S. effort.

Retired Army Col. Dan Smith, senior adviser for military affairs at the Friends Committee on National Legislation, a Washington-based lobbyist group, called the U.S. missile program “still unreliable, still using surrogate equipment and still having trouble discriminating between real and dummy warheads.”

He said the Missile Defense Agency talked in its announcement of putting missile-detecting radar in an unspecified Pacific Ocean location, presumably on an island the United States owns or controls. Possible sites include Alaska’s Aleutian chain, Wake, Midway, Johnson Atoll, Caroline Islands and Rota Saipan, Tinian in the Mariana Islands and Kawjalein Atoll.

Kawjalein is the Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense site encompassing about 750,000 square miles.

The radar would be used to provide early warning of ballistic missile launches. It will be critical to any system success, Smith said: The program to launch a missile-detecting satellite is over cost and behind schedule.

Air Force Lt. Gen. Ronald Kadish, director of the Missile Defense Agency, which is responsible for researching, developing and testing all program components, believes the United States is ready to do initial tests of “hit to kill” capability. “What we do know is that our fundamental technology of hit-to-kill works. A few years ago, I could not tell you that with confidence,” Kadish said in a Pentagon news release.

“The system testing that we have done gives us the confidence that we have the ability to integrate these elements, as complex as they are, and to make them effective,” he said.

Ground-based interceptors at the center of the missile defense system have undergone eight of at least 19 planned developmental tests. Five were successful.

— Hana Kusumoto contributed to this report.

Silos receive protection from rogue weather

On the eve of the Bush administration’s announcement last week ordering the military to begin deploying a fledgling missile defense system, missile silos under construction at Alaska’s Fort Greely were capped.

They had to be protected from a threat more immediate than any posed by so-called rogue nations.

“We capped them to protect them against the winter weather until work can resume in the spring,” said Lt. Col. Jay Smith, chief of staff for the Ground Based Midcourse Defense Site Activation Command at Alaska’s Fort Richardson.

The silos are key elements of a missile field now under construction at the 640,000-acre installation near Delta Junction in Alaska’s interior.

Smith said Alaska’s brutal weather is slowing outdoor work at Greely but not in other project areas.

“We completed reinforcing and lining six silos before we capped them,” he said. “A variety of supporting facilities, such as the readiness and control facility, have been partially completed.”

The control facility has been roofed and enclosed so interior work can continue during the winter.

Pentagon officials said in a news release Dec. 17 that 10 additional silos will to be added at the Greely site by 2005 or 2006 and equipped with missiles.

Other aspects of the missile defense system, according to the Pentagon, include:

• Up to 20 ground-based interceptor missiles capable of taking out ICBMs during midflight — 16 at Fort Greely, Alaska, and four at Vandenberg Air Force Base, Calif.• Up to 20 sea-based interceptor missiles employed on existing Aegis destroyers.• Deployment of air-transportable Patriot PAC-3s to intercept short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.• Land-, sea- and space-based sensors.• Upgrades to existing early-warning satellites and radars in the United Kingdom and Greenland.• Development of a sea-based X-band radar and upgrades to sensors currently on Aegis cruisers and destroyers.

— Wayne Specht

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