An Aegis Ashore missile defense test complex in Hawaii Photo: REUTERS file
politics

Japan's plan to build missile defense system at sea faces mounting costs

28 Comments
By Tim Kelly

Basing Japan's missile defense systems at sea may cost at least twice as much to complete as its now-abandoned plans for Aegis Ashore ground-based sites and delay it to 2028, a person with knowledge of the plans told Reuters.

Fitted with powerful Lockheed Martin Corp radars, Japan's Aegis Ashore systems are meant to intercept missile strikes from North Korea and elsewhere. In June, defense minister Taro Kono suspended plans for two land sites, which would have cost about $2 billion to construct, citing the possibility that booster rockets could fall on local residents.

Instead, he suggested installing the systems on sea platforms or ships.

Defense ministry officials are considering several proposals, including putting Aegis on platforms resembling oil rigs, or on converted merchant ships or naval vessels. Kono's successor, Nobuo Kishi, has said he will make a decision on the future of Aegis Ashore by year end.

Delays and higher costs could rekindle support for an onshore plan, as Japan's public finances are strained by debt exacerbated by massive coronavirus economic aid spending.

A defense ministry official said he was unaware of the new cost and time estimates for missile defense at sea. The land-based Aegis Ashore batteries were scheduled to be operational in 2025.

Some of those proposals could cost more than $4 billion each, not including interceptor missiles and operating expenses, which would exceed those of land stations because of fuel, maintenance and larger crews, said the person familiar with the matter, who has seen estimates being discussed by defense ministry officials.

The person declined to be identified because of the sensitivity of the plans.

A destroyer has about 300 sailors, about 10 times more people than needed for a land site, according to Japan's defense ministry.

Armed with interceptor missiles designed to hit warheads in space, Aegis Ashore's Lockheed Martin SPY-7 radar has at least three times the range of older Aegis radars already on Japanese warships.

"We are here to support whatever Japan needs, and in our mind, there is no option that is off the table," said Tom Rowden, the vice president responsible for Lockheed's overseas Rotary and Mission System business, including Aegis Ashore in Japan. "Our main focus here is to give Japan the capability that they need to be able to defend their country."

In 2019, Japan listed China as its main security threat for the first time, pointing to Beijing's burgeoning defense spending and military maneuvers. Japan has also said it is concerned about a resurgence in Russian activity around Japan.

Although Japan usually pays for big U.S.-built military projects through the U.S. government's Foreign Military Sales program, it is buying SPY-7 directly from Lockheed and has paid half of the $300 million contract already.

The possibility that Aegis Ashore will be based at sea has spurred Raytheon Technologies Corp, which lost the contract to Lockheed in 2018, to promote its SPY-6 radar for Japan instead.

Defense ministry officials say they prefer the SPY-7 and are sticking with it. But some influential lawmakers from Japan's ruling Liberal Democratic Party, such as former deputy defense minister and deputy foreign affairs minister Masahisa Sato, favor SPY-6 because the U.S. Navy plans to use it on new Aegis Ashore destroyers.

© Thomson Reuters 2020.

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

28 Comments
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Stupid idea.

-2 ( +5 / -7 )

I said it was a stupid idea when it was first suggested.

-2 ( +4 / -6 )

Hang on, give them time to work out how to syphone cash into their pockets, it has nothing to do with defence everything is about getting tax payer money into the pockets of the LDP old men.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Armed with interceptor missiles designed to hit warheads in space,

Please note the phrase,"designed to hit".

Very different from "capable of hitting".

gary

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

The title of the article says that self-defense is expensive. Not engaging in self-defense is even more expensive.

6 ( +7 / -1 )

So Aegis Ashore on Sea is dead too?

Japan lacking any sort of missile defense is criminal.

Compare Japan to the ROK with its impressive Triple-Layer KAMD missile defense system providing a nation-wide missile defense coverage, self-made too.

-10 ( +0 / -10 )

@garymalmgren

Armed with interceptor missiles designed to hit warheads in space,

Please note the phrase,"designed to hit".

SM-3 is a mid-course interceptor designed to hit incoming warheads at altitude above 100 km.

SM-3 can't function below 100 km because it's radar guided and a warhead in reentry cannot be picked up by radar due to plasma surrounding a re-entering vehicle. This is the reason why you see NASA scientists waiting to find out if a reentering space capsule has survived in silence for 2 minutes because they can't be detected by radar.

This is why you need interceptors with different seekers at different altitude; radar for above 100 km, heat seeker for between 100 km and 40 km, and radar again below 40 km.

-10 ( +0 / -10 )

Please note the phrase,"designed to hit".

Very different from "capable of hitting".

Even "capable of hitting" is a far cry from "will hit".

0 ( +0 / -0 )

It has to be land-based. Those sea-based systems are too vulnerable, because an easy and cheaply target for potential attackers.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Very different from "capable of hitting".

SM-3 has hit 84% of the targets presented during live fire tests. Some of these tests were conducted from JMSDF warships. Most of the tests were against what are called "subscale targets", meaning the targets are smaller than an actual ballistic missile warhead. These are harder to hit than a real ballistic missile. Many of the tests included decoys and SM-3 demonstrated the ability to reject the decoys and home in on the actual warhead. The whole Standard missile series, SM-1, 2, 3 and SM-6 has an outstanding test record, probably the best air defense system made. The only reason it isn't used by the US Army is it's use of stages that drop off and can cause damage to friendly civil infrastructure. Army air defense missiles like Patriot and THAAD are all single stage missiles for this reason, and it hurts their performance.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

It has to be land-based. Those sea-based systems are too vulnerable, because an easy and cheaply target for potential attackers.

Tell us how a moving target at sea is easier to hit than a land based site the coordinates of which are known with extreme precision and that cannot move anywhere to avoid being detected and targeted? Fog and rain can make maritime targets very hard to find and the barge carrying SM-3s that was one place yesterday can be hundreds of kilometers away the next, hiding under a storm undetectable from above.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

SM-3 can't function below 100 km because it's radar guided and a warhead in reentry cannot be picked up by radar due to plasma surrounding a re-entering vehicle. This is the reason why you see NASA scientists waiting to find out if a reentering space capsule has survived in silence for 2 minutes because they can't be detected by radar.

You are confusing the many versions of the Standard Missile family. SM-1 and SM-2 used semi-active radar homing. SM-6 uses active radar homing. SM-3 uses a form of infrared homing.

The plasma surrounding a re-entering ballistic missile does not reduce its detectability by radar. I have no idea where such stories come from. PAC -3 relies on a K band radar in its seeker to hit ballistic missile warheads on re-entry. The missile battery tracking and targeting radars are quite capable of tracking re-entering warheads. They don't disappear from radar. Plasma surrounding the re-entering warhead or space ship does disrupt radio reception but those NASA scientists you mention never lost radar track on the spacecraft.

SM-3 is optimized for very long range intercepts. For shorter range intercepts there is THAAD and for short range point defense there is PAC-3. A form of IR is used because in space it seems to work the best. The goal is to kill the incoming missile when it is easier to hit and before it deploys decoys.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@Desert Tortoise

how a moving target at sea is easier to hit than a land based site 

Modern torpedoes have a range of 50 km or more.

SM-1 and SM-2 used semi-active radar homing. SM-6 uses active radar homing.

SM-1(Obsolete) and SM-2 are not anti-ballistic missiles.

The plasma surrounding a re-entering ballistic missile does not reduce its detectability by radar. I have no idea where such stories come from.

https://youtu.be/9DlBcS70EEk?t=234

A total blackout upon reentry, can't figure out if the spacecraft survived the reentry or not until the surrounding plasma disappears and comm link is reestablished. Such was the case with the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster which NASA couldn't immediately figure out that it broke up during reentry due to plasma blackout.

PAC -3 relies on a K band radar in its seeker to hit ballistic missile warheads on re-entry. 

PAC-3's max altitude is 20~35 km depending on the version, long after re-entry warhead's plasma has dissipated and is lockable again.

SM-3 is optimized for very long range intercepts. 

SM-3 is a mid-course interceptor hitting warheads on cruise mode above atmosphere, useless on a reentering warhead.

-10 ( +0 / -10 )

A total blackout upon reentry, can't figure out if the spacecraft survived the reentry or not until the surrounding plasma disappears and comm link is reestablished.

You are still missing what I said. Yes, the heat of re-entry disrupts radio communications. But it does not diminish radar reflectivity. A ground based radar still has a return from a re-entering spacecraft while those comms are disrupted. The contents of the spacecraft could be burned or not, which is why the ground controllers are chewing their nails during that phase of re-entry but they can still see it on radar. Do you understand the difference?

Modern torpedoes have a range of 50 km or more

So what? Cruise missiles have a range approaching 1500 km. Neither matters if you can't find what you want to attack. That is the benefit of sea based systems. They move around, can hide in weather or imitate commercial shipping (visual deception) and remain undetected for days, even weeks. We hid whole carrier strike groups from the Soviets, bringing them within striking range of the old USSR inside the Sea of Okhotsk or the Barents without being detected. We excelled at running without using radios. We used signal lights and signal flags for everything including flight ops. Radars and ESM were in the receive mode only. We could sneak around under weather and avoid detection. How did we know we avoided detection? Normally if we were not trying to limit detection the Soviets would greet us with Bears and other aircraft hundreds of miles from their coast. But in the Sea of Okhotsk the usual welcoming committee was a no-show and their radios were dead quiet right up until our fully armed strike aircraft abruptly pulled up from the deck at the 12 nm limit and lit their radar screens up. Then the radios went wild! Or in another case the Soviets didn't realize they had company until a Bear being refueled by another Bear in international airspace off the Kola Peninsula were buzzed by a pair of F-14s doing mach 2. Again, the radios were all nice and quiet until our aircraft announced our presence, then pandamonium. Admiral Lyons in that case led the Eisenhower strike group from Norfolk to the Barents Sea just outside the entrance to the White Sea without being detected. He used weather and figured out how to fuzz Russian radars using the CIWS, a trick he learned in exercises with B-52s. We used to screw with the Soviets like that so they never felt like they had control of the situation. Kept them off balance and worried.

Off one's own coast there are all kinds of ways to hide things among the normal merchant shipping. You could make a barge with VLS cells disappear among the other barge and ship traffic in a busy coastal shipping lane. These don't have to be very far at sea, just far enough that the boosters don't land on land. The difficulty of finding enemy ships among large numbers of merchant ship is one of the great challenges of finding Chinese ships among the thousands of ships in the South China Sea. There are sea lanes that are as busy as a big urban freeway. But this also offers opportunities to hide one's own combat ships among merchant shipping.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@Desert Tortoise

But it does not diminish radar reflectivity.

It does.

Neither matters if you can't find what you want to attack.

Surface warships are noisy and can be heard from hundreds of kilometers away on sonar.

Any country attempting to strike Tokyo with ballistic missiles would first eliminate the Aegis Ashore at sea first with torpedo strikes.

-10 ( +0 / -10 )

Surface warships are noisy and can be heard from hundreds of kilometers away on sonar.

Not in a seaway crowded with other ships. That is the problem. The acoustics are a mess due to the noise of commercial ships. In any event a barge being moved intermittently close to shore is not much of an acoustic target.

From FAS.org:

"ENDO-ATMOSPHERIC INTERCEPT. Technically, intercept within the atmosphere is easier for the defense because the ICBM warheads are highly visible to radar and to optical sensors, because of the very hot "wake" produced by the Mach-23 RV as it enters the atmosphere. "

The above is from

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

I will also mention that all aspect low observable aircraft and missiles need to operate below the speed of sound to minimize their reflectivity. The shock wave formed during supersonic flight is visible to radar even as the aircraft's reflectivity remains very low to zero depending on the wavelength in question. An incoming ballistic missile re-entry vehicle or RV has a huge shock wave that his highly visible on radar.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Btw Samit, if combat ships are so noisy how was the US able to get their carrier strike groups so close to the USSR and not be detected? Ever hear of bubble curtain systems such as Prairie-Masker on warships and submarines that are used to mask self generated noise? And using lower speeds to minimize propeller cavitation noises? Plus very complex propeller shapes to raise the rpm at which the propeller starts to cavitate.

Commercial ships don't worry about that. They churn away at 80-120 rpm from port to port with economical to produce but relatively noisy propellers at more or less constant speeds designed to meet shipping schedules and fuel economy goals with no measures to quiet self generated noise. If you have ever seen how much shipping is out there in the East China Sea, Yellow Sea and South China Sea on a day to day basis or the stem to stern traffic running through the Straits of Malacca you would understand what an acoustic mess those places are. Don't think blue water central Pacific. We're talking shallow coastal seas with heavy shipping traffic and fishing boats everywhere. Warships can also tow noisemakers that imitate the acoustic properties of other ships or spoof a torpedo into attacking the noisemaker.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

When former Defense Minister Taro Kono announced scrapping the plan to deploy Aegis Ashore deployment to Aomori and Yamaguchi, I thought it was scrapped completely. But no, the government has been searching for other options: installing it on an oil rig-like platform, on converted merchant ships (probably abandoned super tankers), or naval vessels. Either way, the cost to maintain it is estimated to increase twice as much as when it is installed on land. 

Critics say the system is to intercept long-range North Korean missiles from hitting Guam, Hawaii or, probably, the U.S. mainland, not to defend japan. The new type of North Korea's ICBMs were displayed at a military parade spectacularly two weeks ago, on October 10.

One cannot help but suspect that Tokyo is being urged by the U.S. side to buy and install Aegis Ashore systems no matter what and where.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

The authors of an article in War on the Rocks say the U.S. missile defense's accuracy rate is no more than 50 percent, while President Donald Trump claims it's 97.5 percent.

Surprisingly, Trump's figure seems close to the truth. If Aegis Ashore deployed to Japan cannot intercept an enemy ICBM, a backup Aegis Ashore in Hawaii will intercept the slipped-through ICBM. If that backup system fails, the third or fourth backup in Alaska or the U.S. mainland will deal with the final blow to the incoming ICBM. 

Thus, the success rate of an enemy ICBM to penetrate the U.S. interception network will become almost zero.

Is this the reason why the U.S. side is so eager for Japan to deploy Aegis Ashore on its soil, and Japan so helter-skelter to answer to the U.S.'s urging?

1 ( +1 / -0 )

The cancellation of the AEGIS program costs Shinzo Abe of his premiership. The Pentagon indirectly forced him to resign, and transfer the authority to Suga. Immediately after this, Japan announced to buy the AEGIS system again.

US Defense industry wins again.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

The cancellation of the AEGIS program costs Shinzo Abe of his premiership. The Pentagon indirectly forced him to resign, and transfer the authority to Suga. Immediately after this, Japan announced to buy the AEGIS system again.

Nonsense. Prove it ! Mr. Abe resigned once before for medical reasons. He has a health problem. Period. Full stop. Quit the rumor mongering.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Surface warships are noisy and can be heard from hundreds of kilometers away on sonar.

Find out what Prairie and Masker are. They are complimentary noise reduction techniques used on US warships and submarines. In exercises with foreign subs the US is often asked to turn these off so the subs can detect US ships. With it on they are nearly undetectable acoustically.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Desert Tortoise,

The success rate of an enemy ICBM to penetrate the U.S. interception network will become almost zero. In other words, the U.S. interception missiles' accuracy rate is 97.5 percent or larger, as Trump boasts.

When you mention there's always a backup system to interception. is this what you mean?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

he authors of an article in War on the Rocks say the U.S. missile defense's accuracy rate is no more than 50 percent, 

There are more than one ballistic missile defense system in the US inventory. My suspicion is they are referring to what is called the Ground Based Interceptor. It has had a miserable test history. THAAD started out also having a miserable test program. The program was halted, the kill vehicle was redesigned and the subsequent test program for the redesigned system went exceedingly well. It has hit every target that was launched and the only tests that were aborted were due to failures of the target missile to launch. THAAD hasn't failed once since the redesign. It is not nearly as long ranged as SM-3 however but has a superb mobile radar system that can talk to Aegis and to an SM-3 and vice versa.

SM-3 is a different system developed out of a Navy long range air defense system. The Standard Missile traces its history back to the Terrier Missile of the late 1950s (itself a development of a target used in testing the much larger Talos Missile). Aegis radars and combat management systems were designed back in the 1970s to deal with mass missile attacks on Navy carrier strike groups. Observed Soviet tactics were for their ships, aircraft and subs to attack using large numbers of long range missiles from several points on the compass hoping to saturate the US Navy's air and missile defenses and score some hits. Aegis and VLS (vertical launch system) were the US Navy's response to this. The radars can track and target hundreds of targets simultaneously and the VLS launchers can spit missiles out at one second intervals. It is now a very tough system to defeat. It was almost by serendipity that the longest range versions of Standard Missile, SM-2ER (for Extended Range) lent themselves to ballistic missile defense. The system's test history however speaks for itself.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

When you mention there's always a backup system to interception. is this what you mean?

Well, two defense missiles are fired at every target to maximize the chances of defeating the incoming warhead. Defenses are layered. Outer layer is SM-3 at sea, followed by SM-6 and maybe ESSM. On land there may be sea based SM-3 for long range defense. What gets past SM-3 is engaged by THAAD and any surviving leakers are taken care of by PAC-3

0 ( +0 / -0 )

All these missiles you mention seem at a development stage. When you sell a product to a customer, and with an exorbitant price tag at that, it must be a flawless, finished product.

Besides, weren't the testings of these missiles conducted under pre-set conditions? That is, inception units knew when and where incoming target missiles were launched.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Besides, weren't the testings of these missiles conducted under pre-set conditions? That is, interception missile units knew when and where incoming target missiles were launched.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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