Japan said Tuesday that it had successfully shot down a ballistic missile over the Pacific as part of joint efforts with the United States to erect a shield against possible attacks from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).
|This 2006 US Department of Defense handout image shows a Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) being launched (Photo: AFP)|
Japan tested the US-developed Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) interceptor from a warship in waters off Hawaii, becoming the first US ally to successfully intercept a target using the system.
Defense Minister Shigeru Ishiba described the successful test as "extremely significant."
"We will continue to strive to increase the system's credibility," he told reporters, insisting that the missile shield was worth the high cost. "We can't talk about how much money should be spent when human lives are at stake."
The Japanese destroyer Kongou launched the missile from waters off Hawaii, which at 7:12 am Japan time (2212 GMT Monday) intercepted the target missile fired earlier from onshore, Japan's naval force said in a statement.
"The Maritime Self-Defense Force will continue to cooperate with the United States and improve the capability" to shoot down incoming missiles, it added.
The interception was made about 100 miles above the Pacific Ocean, officials said.
The test was "a major milestone in the growing cooperation between Japan and the US," Japanese Rear Admiral Katsutoshi Kawano and Lieutenant General Henry Obering, director of the US Missile Defense Agency, said in a joint statement.
Previous participation had been limited to tracking and communications exercises, they noted.
Japan and the United States have been working jointly to erect a missile shield against possible attacks from DPRK, which fired a missile over Japan's main island and into the Pacific Ocean in 1998.
But the missile defense system could affect Japan's relations with its neighbors "by arousing suspicion in enemy countries," said Yoshikazu Sakamoto, professor emeritus of the University of Tokyo.
"With regards to DPRK, Japan needs to enhance efforts in diplomatic negotiations to seriously address Pyongyang's military threat," he said.
Japan's test outraged peace activists.
Missile defense tests "facilitate military unification of Japan and the United States" and defy Japan's war-denouncing constitution, said Koji Sugihara, a member of a civic group campaigning against nuclear and missile tests.
SM-3 missile interceptors are being put on Japanese destroyers equipped with the state-of-the-art Aegis air-defense system. Japan plans to install the missile shield on four Aegis destroyers by March 2011, including the Kongou.
The success of the SM-3 test paves the way for completion of Japan's missile defense involving missiles fired from both warships and ground-based launchers.
The SM-3 system fires missiles from warships to intercept incoming ballistic missiles outside of the earth's atmosphere.
If the intercepting missile misses the target, the second stage of the shield system, ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3) missile interceptors, aims 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.