|U.S. urges Japan to export SM-3s
Interceptor missiles for Europe sought but face export ban
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates asked Japan last week to export a new type of ship-based missile interceptor under joint development by Tokyo and Washington to third countries, presumably European, sources close to Japan-U.S. relations said.
Gates' request could lead to a further relaxation of Japan's decades-long arms embargo and spark a chorus of opposition from pacifist elements in the ruling Democratic Party of Japan and one of its coalition partners, the Social Democratic Party.
Gates made the request concerning Standard Missile-3 Block 2A missiles during talks with Defense Minister Toshimi Kitazawa on Wednesday, the sources said.
The SM-3 Block 2A missile, an advanced version of the SM-3 series, is to be deployed on warships.
Japan has a policy of not exporting weapons or arms technology, except to the United States, with which it has a bilateral security pact.
Gates' request followed President Barack Obama's announcement in September that the United States is abandoning plans for a missile defense shield in Eastern Europe and adopting a new approach to antimissile defense.
During his talks with Kitazawa, Gates called for a relaxation of Japan's arms embargo and prodded Tokyo to pave the way for exports of the new interceptors to third countries, particularly European, the sources said.
Kitazawa refrained from answering directly, telling Gates the government would study the request as it is an internal matter for Japan, the sources said.
The United States plans to begin deploying SM-3 Block 2A missiles in 2018. The Foreign and Defense ministries believe it will be difficult to reject Gates' request, the sources said.
In December 2004, Japan and the United States signed an agreement for bilateral cooperation on a ballistic missile defense system. At the time, Japan exempted U.S.-bound exports of missile interceptors to be developed by the two countries from its arms embargo rules.
Following an agreement on joint development of a new missile interceptor, Japan and the U.S. exchanged diplomatic documents on banning its transfer to third parties or its use for purposes other than originally intended without Japan's advance agreement.
The sources said Japan would probably be forced to exempt the export of the interceptors to third countries or give its nod in advance as stated in the documents.
The United States is hoping to get an answer to Gates' request by the end of 2010, and envisages Japan exporting the new interceptors to European countries, including Germany, the sources said.
SM-3 interceptors are designed to be launched from warships equipped with the sophisticated Aegis air defense system against intermediate ballistic missiles.
Japan began deploying the U.S.-developed SM-3 Block-1 interceptors on its Aegis destroyers in fiscal 2007.
In fiscal 2006, Japan and the United States began to jointly develop the SM-3 Block 2A, an advanced and more accurate version.
Japan is developing the core part of the interceptor, which protects an infrared ray sensor from heat generated by air friction, while the United States is in charge of developing the warhead, called the Kinetic projectile, which would hit and destroy a ballistic missile.
Japan's arms embargo dates back to 1967, when then Prime Minister Eisaku Sato declared a ban on weapons exports to communist states, countries to which the United Nations bans such exports and parties to international conflicts.
The policy was tightened in 1976 when then Prime Minister Takeo Miki imposed an almost blanket ban on the export of weapons. But in 1983, Japan exempted exports of weapons technology to the United States from the embargo.
The Japan Times: Sunday, Oct. 25, 2009
(C) All rights reserved