TOKYO --- Japan's decision to halt the deployment of the U.S.-made Aegis Ashore missile defense system will weaken the nation's ability to counter the North Korean threat and could also strain the security partnership with Washington, its most important ally.
The move upends Japan's plan to add another layer to the current two-shield protection against North Korean missiles that relies on Aegis-equipped destroyers and Patriot PAC 3 surface-to-air missile system. As Japan gets ready to renegotiate the costs of hosting U.S. bases, it could also face added pressure from Washington, which is demanding Tokyo increase its share of the burden.
Tokyo had decided in 2017 to procure two of the land-based batteries from the U.S. for an initial price tag of $2.1 billion to bolster its defenses in response to North Korea's continued nuclear and missile development. But the costs have since snowballed, and Defense Minister Taro Kono said Monday that it is "not logical" to stick to the original plan given the soaring cost and time needed.
Yet "the threat from North Korea has not disappeared -- on the contrary, its technology has grown more advanced," said Katsutoshi Kawano, who served as chief of the Self-Defense Forces' Joint Staff when the deployment decision was made.
"Right now, I don't see any system that can replace Aegis Ashore," he said.
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