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Shield of the Pacific: Japan As a Giant Aegis Destroyer

05/23/2018
Shield of the Pacific: Japan As a Giant Aegis Destroyer

Several decades ago, former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone once described his country as a “big aircraft carrier” from which to defend against Soviet aircraft. Although such an analogy fails to capture the richness and depth of the U.S-Japan alliance, it did say something important about Japan’s unique geographic and strategic position. 

Today’s air and missile threats in the Asia-Pacific region are different, as is the joint U.S.-Japanese defense posture to meet them. Given a handful of changes underway, however, one might instead say that Japan is shaping up to be a giant Aegis destroyer group of sorts. 

A vision of much more robust air and missile defense capability in the Asia-Pacific region hinges upon the forthcoming acquisition of Aegis Ashore sites in Japan. Japan’s intent to acquire two such sites was announced in December 2017, a decision supported by 66 percent of the Japanese population, according to one recent poll.2 

But the potential significance of Japanese Aegis Ashore deployments has not yet been widely understood. Combined with military forces in other domains, these sites will be the foundation of more robust air and missile defenses against North Korea and form a base upon which to adapt to more sophisticated future threats, including China. Assuming the approval process for the foreign military sales comes along well, this development has broad implications for the United States and America’s allies. 

The road to more layered missile defense goes in part through Aegis Ashore, and the road to innovative Aegis Ashore deployments probably goes through Tokyo. 

The U.S. Navy’s Aegis Combat System has evolved considerably since the first Aegis ship deployed in 1984. Some 90 Aegis ships are currently operated by the United States, and five other countries have Aegis ships as well: Australia, Norway, South Korea, Spain, and Japan. The word “Aegis” refers to the shield of the ancient god Zeus, and Aegis ships have long provided fleet air defense, strike, and antisubmarine warfare. Over the past decade, 35 American and 4 Japanese Aegis ships have also acquired a ballistic missile defense mission. 

The most recent configurations are capable of executing the integrated air and missile defense (IAMD) mission, with simultaneous air defense and ballistic missile defense operations.

 

 

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Date: 
05/23/2018
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Center for Strategic and International Studies

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