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Missile-defense plan blasted

By Kazuo Kojima, Mainichi Shimbun, Friday 14 January 2000

Never before have missiles assumed such a place in the minds of as many people here as they do now.

Less than two years ago, North Korea fired its Taepo-Dong 1 ballistic missile over the nation, almost overnight turning a Japan that had been reluctant to pursue a missile-oriented defense policy into a hawk eager to take part in the United States' highly touted Theater Missile Defense plan.

Military analyst Keiichi Nogi, however, objects to the Theater Missile Defense, saying the nation would do better to promote better relations with other East Asian nations instead of taking steps that are only likely to provoke them.

"The Theater Missile Defense is technically difficult to create. What's more, it'd only create an escalation of military tension in East Asia. We should be following a defense policy that aims to ease regional tensions," Nogi argues.

Unlike the intercontinental ballistic missiles that the United States and former Soviet Union made ready to fire at each other's continents during the Cold War, or the missiles North or South Korea would use to traverse the 100-kilometer to 200-kilometer range needed if war erupted there, the missiles at the center of the Theater Missile Defense plan would target rockets capable of traveling some 2,000 kilometers. Those missiles are similar to the ones the United States and its allies used during the 1991 Gulf War.

The government is focusing on using the Standard Block 4A, a defensive missile usually carried on Aegis cruisers. Japanese companies are making sensors for the missiles. But Nogi says they're wasting their time.

"[The Theater Missile Defense] is technically difficult to realize, carries uncertainties and would be unreliable. A missile warhead usually only has a circumference of about 1 meter to 2 meters. And they travel at speeds of up to Mach 6 [six times the speed of sound]. The Theater Missile Defense calls for its missiles to completely destroy these missiles in an instant.

"Then there's the matter of whether the missile is carrying a nuclear or biological warhead. If you blow these up near your own territory, there'd be problems to deal with like fallout ... so the warhead has to be completely destroyed. That's technically difficult.

"In addition, the system relies on infrared sensors in satellites to detect the enemy's missiles and then sends a message to a missile on the ground for it to be launched - and this complicated missile system is supposed to work in a few seconds? Without practicing, there's no way that this system could work. And the nly way it could be put into practice is under actual wartime conditions.

"Even presuming that there was some way to practice, it'd still depend on one side saying: 'Okay, we're going to shoot now,' just in case something went wrong. But in a real war, the enemy is only going to fire off their missiles at a time when we least expect it. The system's not only filled with a lot of uncertainties, there's no way that you can check its reliability."

Nogi points to the use of Patriot missiles the United States used during the Gulf War to try and shoot down Scuds fired at Israel as an example of the difficulties facing the Theater Missile Defense. He says that of numerous Patriots fired at 40-odd Scuds, only one or two hit their target.

"It's near impossible to hit the missiles," Nogi says.

Although the nation hasn't spent much on the Theater Missile Defense as yet, Nogi says that a heftier bill being sent to the government is merely a matter of time.

"The United States itself hasn't come up with a cost estimate for the system. For 1999 alone, it allocated 3.4 billion dollars to the development of the Theater Missile Defense.

"If the project really became one of joint development, there's no way that Japan could get away with the 1 billion yen it has put aside for the project thus far. No one has any idea how much the system is going to cost."

There has been criticism that Japan jumped blindly into the project because of fears sparked by the Taepo-Dong, but Nogi dismisses such speculation.

"For years, the United States had been urging Japan to take part in a missile development project, but Japan kept putting off an answer. Right at the time when it looked as though Japan wouldn't be able to put off an answer any longer, Taepo-Dong came along.

"People got all macho and started saying things like they'd blow up enemy missile bases. Support for the Theater Missile Defense was sealed, and [the nation's] participation decided with very little debate.

"But if the politicians are going to use arguments such as the Taepo Dong to justify taking part in the Theater Missile Defense, what about China or the countries of the former Soviet Union? Some of them are aiming their missiles at Japan for sure."

2000 The Mainichi Newspapers Co.

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