* Talks focus on two Atago-class destroyers
* Japan needs upgrade to use interceptor being co-developed
* Japan is U.S. top partner on missile defense
By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON, Aug 15 The United States and Japan
are discussing system upgrades for a pair of Japanese destroyers
to boost defenses against a ballistic missile attack, an
executive at the Pentagon's top contractor said Wednesday.
The potential multimillion-dollar updates to two Atago-class
guided-missile destroyers would provide cutting-edge "Aegis"
ballistic missile defenses equivalent to those being added to
U.S. Navy ships, said Nick Bucci, who heads such maritime
programs at Lockheed Martin Corp.
Japan, rattled by North Korean nuclear arms and ballistic
missile tests, has emerged as the most important U.S. partner in
crafting a layered shield against missiles of all ranges and in
all phases of flight.
The United States has been spending roughly $10 billion a
year on the overall project, a reflection of concern chiefly
about North Korea and Iran.
Lockheed Martin's Aegis combat system weaves in radar,
computers, software, displays, weapons launchers and weapons to
defend against a range of surface, aerial and underwater
Named for the mythological shield of Zeus, the Aegis system
is to be deployed ashore in Romania and Poland starting around
2015 to defend Europe from ballistic missile threats from
countries such as Iran, as well as on a growing number of U.S.
Japan decided in 2003 to upgrade all four of its
Aegis-equipped Kongo-class destroyers to be capable of shooting
down ballistic missiles using Raytheon Co Standard Missile-3
The work now under discussion would modernize the Aegis
systems aboard the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force's Atago and
Ashigara to a more advanced setup than the Kongo-class, Bucci
said in a telephone interview with Reuters. He declined to cite
a potential value for such upgrades other than millions of
Included would be new brains for the Aegis system's radar,
designed to be able to thwart ballistic missiles at the same
time as defend against other airborne attacks.
Also included would be new computing infrastructure,
displays, consoles and sensors, Bucci said from Huntsville,
Alabama, where he was attending an Army-supported conference on
space and missile defense.
With such a modernization, the Atago and Ashigara would be
capable of firing an updated SM-3 missile that Japan is
co-developing with the United States. Kongo-class destroyers
would need a separate upgrade of their own to achieve this.
The updated SM-3 interceptor, known as Block IIA, is a
cornerstone of the penultimate phase of President Barack Obama's
roadmap for defending NATO'S European territory against missile
The interceptor's larger rocket motors and advanced
"hit-to-kill" warhead are meant to defend a greater area. The
warhead works by colliding with its target. The program is on
track for a 2018 delivery, Raytheon, the U.S. partner, said in
March. Mitsubichi Heavy Industries Ltd is the Japanese
The cooperative research effort on the updated interceptor
been carried out under a U.S.-Japanese memorandum of agreement
signed shortly after North Korea's surprise Aug. 31, 1998,
launch of a three-stage Taepo Dong-1 missile that overflew Japan
before falling into the Pacific.
Bucci in the interview said he was "pretty sure" that South
Korea, which has three Aegis-equipped destroyers, has been
talking to the U.S. Navy about similar ship upgrades to
ballistic missile defense configuration.
The U.S. Defense Department and the Navy had no immediate
comment on any such possible programs for Japan or South Korea.
The U.S. Navy's own fleet of ballistic missile
defense-capable Aegis ships is schedule to grow from 24 at the
end of fiscal 2011 to 36 by the end of fiscal 2018, according to
an August 10, 2012, report by the nonpartisan Congressional
Research Service, a Library of Congress arm.