TOKYO, May 2, 2010 (Kyodo News International) -- A next-generation missile interceptor being co-developed by Japan and the United States would not be able to take out U.S.-bound North Korean long-range ballistic missiles flying over Japan, senior Defense Ministry officials said Sunday.
This is because the range of the interceptor, dubbed the Standard Missile 3 Block 2A, would not allow an Aegis-equipped ship deployed off Japan to target high-flying missiles, the officials told Kyodo News.
The outlook could affect debate in Japan over whether to exercise the constitutionally banned right of collective self-defense so as to shoot down U.S.-bound missiles flying over the country.
With an estimated range of 200 to 300 kilometers, the current SM-3 is known to be unable to intercept long-range ballistic missiles. Some military analysts had argued that the SM-3 Block 2A would be capable of doing so, though its range has not been made public.
An advanced version of the SM-3, the SM-3 Block 2A, will have a longer range and higher targeting accuracy. The United States plans to begin deploying it in 2018.
As the new model will be able to counter decoys or multiple warheads, one Aegis-equipped vessel with the interceptor is expected to be sufficient to defend Japan, instead of the two presently needed.
Despite the outlook for the next-generation interceptor, the Defense Ministry officials said it might still be able to knock out ballistic missiles bound for Hawaii if activated in seas near the U.S. Pacific island state just before the missiles reenter the atmosphere.
According to a ministry report about North Korea's missile launch in April last year, the missile flew more than 3,000 km after passing 370 to 400 km above northeastern Japan. A missile bound for Hawaii, about 7,000 km away from the reclusive nation, would fly at an even higher altitude.
When deciding to introduce missile defense in 2003, Japan said it will not be used to defend third states. Tokyo takes the position that the country has the right to defend an ally under attack but ''cannot exercise'' the right under the pacifist Constitution.
But a blue-ribbon panel proposed in 2008 that the current interpretation of the Constitution concerning the right of collective self-defense be altered in favor of intercepting U.S.-bound missiles.
Washington pointed out last year that if Tokyo cannot move to counter U.S.-bound missiles, it will make it harder for U.S. citizens to understand the need to maintain a bilateral alliance with Japan.
Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama has said his government has no intention of reviewing the interpretation of the Constitution over this matter.