The Japanese government plans to increase its missile defense systems, the Japanese Defense Minister said Thursday at a joint press availability with Japanese and U.S. government officials.

Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, through an interpreter, said his government “will continue to promote cooperation in ballistic missile defense, including acquisition of new assets, and enhanced capability in new domains such as space and cyberspace.”

They intend to strengthen the joint responsive posture this way, Onodera said at a joint press conference following a meeting between the Japanese Defense and Foreign Ministers and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Secretary of Defense James Mattis.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera shake hands at the opening of the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee (“2+2”), at the State Department on August 17, 2017. (Photo: U.S. State Department)
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono, and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera shake hands at the opening of the U.S.-Japan Security Consultative Committee (“2+2”), at the State Department on August 17, 2017. (Photo: U.S. State Department)

This ministerial conference, called the Security Consultative Committee (2+2) meeting, was convened based on instructions from President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe following Abe’s visit to the U.S. in February.

When asked by reporters how the U.S. and Japan would react to a ballistic missile launched to the waters surrounding Guam, Mattis said “In the event of a missile launch towards the territory of Japan, Guam, United States, Korea, we would take immediate, specific actions to take it down.”

Onodera responded “my response would be in the event there’s an attack on Japan, then we will use the asset available to us for the missile defense and we will defend Japan.”

The Kyodo news service in the Japan Times reported Thursday that a defense ministry official said they specifically plan to introduce an Aegis Ashore land-based missile defense system to protect against North Korea missile threats and increase the number of Aegis ships. The government will seek funds in the next fiscal year to cover Aegis Ashore system design costs, the official said in the report.

Aegis Ashore is currently deployed in Romania and being built in Poland. In Europe Aegis Ashore is part of the European Phased Adaptive Approach Phases II and III. The system uses the same components as new U.S. Aegis ballistic missile defense-capable destroyers like AN/SPY-1 radar and three eight-cell Mark-41 Vertical Launch Systems armed with Raytheon [RTN] Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) interceptors.

The U.S. and Japan are jointly developing the SM-3 Block IIA missile for use with Aegis systems, although the last intercept test failed in June (Defense Daily, June 23). The Block IIA missile is planned for deployment in 2018.

Japan currently has missile defense capabilities through its Aegis-enabled Atago and Kongō-class destroyers and ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 surface-to-air interceptors. The report said the defense ministry is eager to move forward a deadline, set for March 2018, for a plan to increase the Aegis ships from four to five. The ministry is now hoping to achieve the plan by the end of this year.

Following the joint press conference, Onodera confirmed his government’s interest in Aegis Ashore capabilities at an additional press conference.

The defense minister said regarding new missile defense assets including Aegis Ashore “cooperation from the U.S. side is necessary. Naturally, I requested cooperation concerning such new assets, and I believe that I have obtained our partner’s commitment to cooperation.”

Onodera confirmed Mattis specifically responded positively to a plan including Aegis Ashore. He was unwilling to specify what Mattis said but noted the Secretary of Defense understands the need for missile defense “and I believe that he indicated the U.S. side’s stance to provide firm support in light of the present security environment surrounding Japan.”

Onodera said he explained  that Japan needs new assets, “mainly Aegis Ashore, in the context of the requirement for robust missile defense” and requested cooperation from the U.S. He said his understanding is that U.S. officials welcomed the cooperation.

Separately, the American and Japanese officials discussed other regional security matters beyond North Korea.

Tillerson said they discussed concern about the security environment in the East and South China Seas, a reference to China’s claiming islands and reefs there and China is gradually stationing some military forces and basing capabilities on South China Sea islands.

Tillerson said “the United States and Japan oppose any unilateral action that seeks to undermine Japan’s administration of the Senkaku Islands,” and that they reaffirm the island are covered by the U.S.-Japan Security Treaty.

He added they oppose militarization in the South China Sea. “Maritime disputes should be settled peacefully and maintain the freedom of navigation in accordance with the United Nations Conventions on the Law of the Sea.”

In their vein of concern relating to Chinese claims, the foreign minister announced that Japan plans to provide $500 million in maritime security assistance to coastal countries in the Indo-Pacific region over three years, through 2019.

All of the officials reiterated their support for the 2015 U.S.-Japan defense guidelines and are telling staff to accelerate its implementations. The 2015 guidelines promote seamless and robust cooperation between the countries.

Mattis said they are accelerating implementation in light of the security issues in the region and that the militaries “are also cooperating in new ways, and you’ve heard several of them mentioned here already. This includes our emerging cooperation in such areas as space and counterspace – cyberspace as well as ballistic missile defense and maritime security.”

Tillerson noted their conversation stressed the role U.S. extended deterrence plays in ensuring the security of Japan and peace and stability in the Asia-Pacific region overall.

Japanese Foreign Minister Taro Kono noted the security environment in the region “is becoming increasingly severe. Never has there been a time that calls for a more united and concerted response by the United States and Japan.”

In that light, Kono said the officials agreed they must engage and watch for acts that would impede freedom of navigation in the South China Sea and that the officials are looking to further promote cooperation in cyberspace and space domains.