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Reuters June 6, 2006

Pentagon approves $458 mln missile sale to Japan

WASHINGTON, June 6 (Reuters) - The Pentagon on Tuesday said it approved a $458 million sale to Japan of nine sea-based missiles designed to shoot down ballistic missiles, a deal that would provide an initial ballistic missile defense capability for Japan.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) said the government of Japan wants to buy nine Standard Missile-3 interceptors and make ballistic missile upgrades to one of its Aegis missile systems.

Congress has 30 days to block the deal, but such action is rare.

The DSCA said the sale would help Japan's defensive capabilities, contributing to what it called "an acceptable military balance in the area."

Raytheon Co. builds the SM-3 missile. It is integrated with Lockheed Martin Corp.'s Aegis ballistic missile defense system. The DSCA said United Defense, a unit of Britain's BAE Systems Plc, would also be a contractor once the deal is signed.

"The Aegis weapon system and Standard missiles will be used on (Japanese) ships and will provide, in concert with Japan Self Defense Forces PAC-3 Patriot missiles, the initial ballistic missile defense for mainland Japan," the DSCA said in announcing the deal.

John Pike, a defense analyst for globalsecurity.org, said the sale marked a "significant step" for Japan, which was growing increasingly concerned about North Korea's stockpile of missiles capable of reaching Japanese cities, possibly tipped with nuclear weapons.

The sale would also help the United States by protecting U.S. bases in Japan that could also be targeted by North Korea, he said.

David Altwegg, operations director of the Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency, in April told Reuters Japan and the United States were also close to signing an agreement to develop jointly an advanced version of the SM-3 missile.

On Monday, the Pentagon said it had also agreed to sell Japan up to 44 SM-2 Block IIIB missiles built by Raytheon and related equipment, in a deal valued at up to $70 million.

Japan has outstripped all other nations in joining the multibillion-dollar U.S. drive for a layered shield against ballistic missiles that could carry warheads tipped with chemical, nuclear or germ weapons. Tokyo's interest soared after North Korea fired a multistage Taepo Dong 1 missile across the Japanese mainland on Aug. 31, 1998.


Copyright 2006, Reuters