Monday, June 26, 2006

Patriots to Japan

According to an article today in the online version of the Japanese newspaper Yomiuri Shimbun, the US and Japanese governments have agreed to deploy the PAC-3 (Patriot Advanced Capability) air-defense missile at the US air base at Kadena on Okinawa, or at the nearby Kadena Ammunition Storage Area.

The Shimbun says that from five to six hundred US troops, in four PAC-3 batteries, (probably one battalion), will be deployed. There are approximately eight launchers in a battery, with about sixteen missiles per launcher. The deployment is to be completed by the end of the year.

The PAC-3 was deployed in the offensive phase of the Second Gulf War, and used against Iraqi missile threats. They are useful against high-flying aircraft, and some of North Korea’s ICBM’s, although they may, or may not, be useful against the TD-2 that North Korea may, or may not, be preparing to test.

The decision to deploy US missiles is interesting because, for one thing, the Japanese Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) is also to deploy its own PAC-3’s soon. Japan concluded a deal in 2005 to produce the weapon under license, and deployments are to begin on the Japanese mainland by the end of the current Japanese fiscal year (1 April-31 March). The United States is adding yet another trip-wire to east-Asia – any North Korean missile test risks an American as well as a Japanese response: which will cause raised eyebrows in a couple of large countries near North Korea.

Japan is getting preferential access to some of the most advanced US weapons. Japan also has another advanced US air-defense system, the Aegis/SM-3 radar/missile system, deployed on board the Japanese Navy’s Kongo class destroyers.

A closer alliance with Japan is good for both Japan and the US, as each nation needs allies, particularly as China grows stronger. It is of increasing importance to the US as the South Korea tie wanes. Japan, despite its allegedly pacifist constitution, has built splendid armed forces: its Navy (oops, sorry, that's "Naval Self Defense Force") is easily the best in Asia and one of the most powerful in the world. Pyongyang, and Bejing, would do well to pay attention.

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