Media Mix, April 14, 2019

Proposed locations for the two Aegis Ashore systems being purchased by Japan

Here’s this week’s Media Mix about the Aegis Ashore anti-missile system that Japan says it will set up in Akita and Yamaguchi Prefectures. The bulk of the column references a conversation between journalists Shunji Taoka and Osamu Aoki on the latter’s J-Wave FM radio show, but only partially. Though the two reporters only talked for about 20 minutes, Taoka covered a lot of ground that should be aired more widely in other media. As usual, the nuance and detail of this kind of research and analysis tends to get lost on mainstream media, and there are enough broad arguments against the Aegis Ashore system to provoke skepticism among the general public as to its necessity, especially with regards to the outrageous cost of the whole thing. But for the record, here are some other points Taoka brought up.

-The Defense Ministry rationale for the kind of “vigilance” afforded by Aegis Ashore is that North Korea’s missile launch capability is pretty much complete, but Taoka says the technology being used by NK is already outmoded and very easy to detect.

-The U.S. Defense Department initial estimate of the cost of the two systems was ¥160 billion. Presently, the estimate is ¥466 billion, not including the missiles themselves, which cost up to ¥4 million a piece, and the standard order is for 24 missiles per system. That means, the real cost is at least ¥700 billion, but given that the systems won’t be installed for a number of years, the price will surely go up, because it always does with weapons bought from the U.S. And Japan always pays what the U.S. demands without trying to bargain the price down.

-The Self-Defense Forces never requested the Aegis Ashore system. The U.S. basically told Japan that it needs it.

-The Aegis Ashore and other security-related purchases are not factored into U.S.-Japan trade balance figures.

-Japan is required to pay for the systems before they are delivered, and they are almost never delivered on time.

-Money for Aegis Ashore will come out of the GSDF budget, which is fixed, so the government will have to eliminate a large number of items already budgeted in order to pay for it.

-When Abe started his second stint as prime minister, Japan paid ¥130 billion a year to the U.S. for weapons. It’s now ¥650 billion. Japanese defense contractors have lost business since he took office. (But this, in fact, may be a good thing, because as a result many contractors, like Mitsubishi Heavy Industry, have decided to get out of the weapons business.)

-The Self-Defense Forces do not want the Aegis Ashore because of the above-mentioned budget problems, and it would also likely increase tensions with locals in areas where the systems are installed. As for the fear of electromagnetic radiation, the radar used by the system requires 400,000 times the amount of power required for a standard wi-fi signal, which is what the Defense Ministry is comparing the radar signal to. Taoka doesn’t say if this is a health hazard or not. He simply wants to point out that the government isn’t being forthright on the matter.

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