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Japanese warship tests antimissile system

Japan is the first US ally to successfully carry out a test of the US-built interceptor system.

By / December 18, 2007

A Japanese naval vessel shot down a ballistic missile Monday over the Pacific Ocean, the first US ally to successfully carry out such a test. Japan plans to install the US-built interceptor system on four of its warships, in addition to land-based missile systems to defend itself from possible attack from neighboring North Korea.

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Japan has stepped up military cooperation with the US since North Korea test-fired a long-range missile over Japan in 1998. Monday's test is a reminder of tensions in Northeast Asia, including the flash point of Taiwan, over which China claims sovereignty and which it has targeted with hundreds of missiles. Analysts say Japan's interceptor missiles could be used to defend Taiwan in the event of a Chinese attack.

In Monday's test, an Aegis-equipped Japanese warship, the JS Kongo, tracked and intercepted a target missile fired from a US naval base in Hawaii, the Associated Press reported. The target was fired at 12:05 p.m. local time and shot down about 100 miles above the ocean at 12:11 p.m., according to the US Missile Defense Agency.

Japan's top government spokesman Nobutaka Machimura hailed the test result.
"This is very significant for Japanese national security," Machimura said at a regular press briefing in Tokyo. "The Defense Ministry and the government have been putting efforts into the development of ballistic missile defense, and we will continue to install the needed equipment and conduct exercises."

Agence France-Presse reports that the interceptor system installed on the Japanese vessel is a Standard Missile-3 or SM-3, and that its deployment would complement Japan's ground-based launchers.

The success of the SM-3 test paves the way for completion of Japan's missile defence involving missiles fired from warships and ground-based launchers.
If the SM-3 system fails to intercept its target in space, the second stage of the shield uses ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3) missile interceptors to try to shoot it down.
Japan introduced its first PAC-3 missile launcher at the Iruma air force base north of Tokyo in March, one year ahead of schedule amid tense relations with North Korea, which also tested a nuclear bomb last year.

The test missile resembled North Korea's Rodong missile, which has a shorter range than the long-range Taepondong missile fired over Japan in 1998, reports Al Jazeera. That event has driven Japanese interest in deploying missile-defense systems.

[But] North Korea is believed to have an arsenal of about 200 Rodongs, and Japanese defence experts say it represents the greatest threat to Japanese security.
Riki Ellison, a prominent missile-defence advocate who monitored the test, said that by intercepting a missile similar in speed and size to those in North Korea's arsenal, "Japan has proven its capability to defend and protect their country from North Korean missiles".