Press Conferences

Press Conference by Defense Minister Onodera (11:23-11:52 A.M. December 19, 2017)

Press Conference by the Defense Minister
Time & Date: 11:23-11:52 A.M. December 19, 2017
Place: Press Conference Room, Ministry of Defense (MOD)

(This is a provisional translation of an announcement by the Defense Minister and the Q&A session at the subsequent press conference for reference purposes only.)
The original text is in Japanese.

1. Announcements
Today, "Regarding the fundamental improvement of the ballistic missile defense capability" was determined at the meetings of the National Security Council and the Cabinet. This is a decision to introduce for the GSDF two batteries of Aegis Ashore, the land-based version of the Aegis system that is capable of constantly and continuously defending Japan against ballistic missile attacks, as our new ballistic missile defense system. The threat against our national security from North Korea's nuclear and missile development has become more serious and imminent than before and has risen to a new level. However, I believe that the introduction of two batteries of Aegis Ashore will make it possible to constantly and continuously defend Japan, fundamentally improving the ballistic missile capability. We are currently making final arrangements within the government to allocate the expenditure necessary for the introduction of two batteries of Aegis Ashore. We will take necessary actions to introduce the system as soon as possible.

2. Questions and Answers

Question:
Concerning the National Defense Program Guidelines, last week, Prime Minister Abe said that he will consider what the truly necessary defense capabilities are instead of extending the existing policy line, thereby indicating a fundamental revision of the guidelines. Could you offer your thoughts on how the guidelines should be revised and in particular whether or not Japan should possess the enemy base attack capability in the future?

Minister:
When the prime minister appointed me as defense minister in August, I was instructed to revise the National Defense Program Guidelines and conduct a study on the Mid-Term Defense Program. Concerning the Mid-Term Defense Program, it had already been decided to conduct a study, but concerning the revision of the National Defense Program Guidelines, we will accurately identify the current security challenges under the prime minister's instruction and will constantly study the revision while holding sufficient discussions within the government.

Question:
What is your view concerning the enemy base attack capability?

Minister:
As the prime minister has been stating, there is no plan at the moment to possess such capability.

Question:
I will ask you about the fall of a window from a helicopter of the U.S Forces in Ginowan City. Yesterday, the MOD expressed its position to tolerate the resumption of flight operation of this type of helicopter. What explanations did you receive about safety measures from the U.S. Forces?

Minister:
Concerning the fall of a window from a helicopter of the U.S Forces in Ginowan City, the MOD has had various communications with the U.S. side since immediately after the accident. The U.S. side has explained that the cause was human error. According to the explanation, in the pre-flight inspection, the crew did not notice that the window lever was not appropriately fixed by the safety wire and the lever was erroneously or carelessly moved to the emergency escape position, resulting in the fall of the window from the helicopter. I have been informed that taking this accident seriously, the U.S. side ordered all CH-53E helicopters which were flying at that moment to return to MCAS Futenma immediately after the accident and started an investigation and that thorough inspection have been conducted on all CH-53E helicopters belonging to the 1st Marine Aircraft Wing. In addition, as a recurrence prevention measure, the U.S. side will provide education to all crew members, maintenance and ground personnel engaging in the operation of CH-53Es in order to ensure that they accurately understand the cause of the accident and the procedures necessary for preventing the recurrence of similar accidents. I have also been informed that the U.S. side will check whether the window safety wires of all CH-53Es are appropriately fixed, that the window safety wires will be permanently fixed except at the time of maintenance work and inspection and will be removed only in emergencies and that the crew members of all aircraft arriving at and departing from MCAS Futenma have been instructed to avoid flying over all schools including Futenma Second Elementary School as much as possible. In light of the MOD's knowledge concerning the investigation of a similar accident, we have concluded that the measures necessary for the resumption of the CH-53E's flight operation have been taken. On the other hand, we will continue to request the U.S. side to ensure flight safety. The MOD has explained these matters to relevant local governments, including Okinawa Prefecture and Ginowan City, and we will continue to provide conscientious explanations to the local people concerning information obtained from the U.S. side.

Question:
I will ask you about the introduction of Aegis Ashore. Concerning the threat from North Korea, specifically what kind of threat will the introduction of Aegis Ashore make it possible to deal with? Also, concerning the timing of the introduction, fiscal 2023 has been mentioned as a possible target year, but what is the timing that you have in mind?

Minister:
As Aegis Ashore is capable of using the SM-3 Block IIA, we understand that the range and capability of our defense will improve. Currently, the MSDF's Aegis-equipped destroyers are responsible for missile defense, but given that this task must be performed constantly, on a 24-hours-a-day, 365-days-a-year basis, it is desirable to deploy a land-based system. As for the target year of introduction, currently, it takes around five years to acquire an Aegis system when we build a new Aegis-equipped destroyers. Although we would like to introduce the new system as soon as possible, we will consider this as a guideline timeframe.

Question:
I would like a clarification. If the period of five years is a guideline timeframe, does that mean that fiscal 2023 will be the target year?

Minister:
We will make the judgment after obtaining various information from the U.S. side, so no decision has been made yet.

Question:
Could you explain the effect of the introduction of Aegis Ashore in mitigating the impact on the MSDF?

Minister:
The MSDF currently possesses four BMD-capable Aegis-equipped destroyers, and the number will increase to five, and ultimately, we will firmly defend Japan with a fleet of eight Aegis-equipped destroyers. However, the Aegis-equipped destroyers are originally not intended only for BMD but also for performing various tasks, including the defense of the southwestern region. When the Aegis Ashore system has been completed, the Aegis-equipped destroyers will be able to perform various tasks, making it possible to defend Japan more effectively.

Question:
You said that the cost of Aegis Ashore has not yet been fixed at this moment, but in the Diet, opposition parties may criticize you for planning to introduce something whose final cost is unclear. What explanations will you provide in that respect?

Minister:
The introduction of an Aegis system for installation on an Aegis-equipped destroyer currently costs around 80 to 90 billion yen under the FMS procurement arrangement. While I mentioned that figure as a guideline level, the final cost will be examined by the study to be conducted in preparation for the acquisition. In any case, as it is necessary to introduce the system at the earliest possible date in order to meet the Japanese people's requests in relation to ballistic missile defense, we will provide conscientious explanations in the Diet while making efforts to realize the introduction as soon as possible.

Question:
In Romania, around 100 personnel are being deployed per battery of Aegis Ashore. Could you tell me what the MOD's estimate is of the necessary number of personnel and whether additional personnel will be deployed?

Minister:
The Aegis Ashore batteries to be introduced at this time will be used for joint operation in principle. In the joint operation, the GSDF will play the main role in principle. The necessary number of personnel has not yet been determined, but the deployment of more than 100 military personnel in Romania, which you mentioned just now, may serve as a guideline. In any case, we will work out a specific figure concerning the necessary number of personnel in preparation for the introduction.

Question:
I will ask you about the U.S. National Security Strategy, which President Trump announced earlier. This criticizes China and Russia as revisionist powers and seeks to rebuild the U.S. military strength by expanding its national defense budget. Could you comment on that and offer your assessment?

Minister:
Before dawn on December 18, Japan Time, the U.S. government announced the National Security Strategy. The strategy cites four pillars-protecting the American people and homeland and preserving their way of life, promoting the United States' prosperity, preserving peace through strength, and advancing American influence in the world-and seeks to restore the United States' prestige. It also states that the United States will deal with challenges that affect the country, including the presence of revisionist states such as China and Russia, dictatorships such as North Korea and Iran, terrorism, and international crime organizations. In addition, it seeks to rebuild its military strength and stresses the importance of the relationships with allied countries, including Japan, for preserving the common interests with the allies and dealing with the common threats. The MOD regards this as an indication of the future direction of the national security strategy of the whole of the U.S. government, so it intends to continue to steadily implement security and defense cooperation between Japan and the United States and strengthen the deterrence and response capabilities of the Japan-U.S. alliance while closely collaborating with the United States as it executes the national security policy under this strategy.

Question:
How do you expect this strategy will affect the Japan-U.S. alliance, the defense of Japan and Japan-U.S. defense cooperation?

Minister:
The United States has just unveiled a broad strategy, so I expect that various policies concerning the defense capability development will be formulated based on this strategy as a guideline. Although I would like to wait for that, we must fully recognize the security environment faced by Japan, including North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear development and Chinese activities in the East and South China Seas. In that respect, the U.S. National Security Strategy is in accordance with our recognition of the situation to some degree.

Question:
I will ask you about the Chinese forces' activities. Yesterday, the Chinese air force announced that it had conducted an exercise involving a formation of fighters and other aircraft flying over Tsushima Strait into international airspace over the Sea of Japan. What information does the government of Japan have on that and what is your response?

Minister:
It has been confirmed that yesterday, December 18, a total of five Chinese military aircraft-two H-6 bombers, two SU-30 fighters and one TU-154 reconnaissance aircraft-flew over Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan area from the East China Sea area. Later, they reversed course and flew back to the East China Sea area. This was the first case in which Chinese fighter aircraft flew over Tsushima Strait into the Sea of Japan area. Separately, it has been confirmed that on the same day, one Y-8 electronic warfare aircraft passed between the main Okinawa Island and Miyako Island from the Pacific side of the area south of the Sakishima Islands and flew to the East China Sea area. In either case, there was not an intrusion into the Japanese airspace, nor was there any dangerous behavior on the part of the Chinese aircraft or any extraordinary incident that should be disclosed. As is clear from these flight operations, China is expanding its activity range in the surrounding airspace. It is possible that yesterday, the Chinese military aircraft conducted some kind of training or information-gathering activity, but I would like to refrain from saying anything definite about the purpose of the flight operations. The MOD/SDF will continue to devote full-fledged efforts to surveillance activity from the viewpoint of firmly defending Japan's territorial land, seas and airspace while keeping a close watch over the movements of the Chinese forces, whose activities are expanding and increasing. At the same time, we will strictly implement measures against airspace intrusion in accordance with international laws and the SDF Act.

Question:
A formal decision was made to introduce two batteries of Aegis Ashore. What locations are you considering as candidate sites of deployment? By when will you have to decide where to deploy the system?

Minister:
The deployment locations of the two batteries of Aegis Ashore have not yet been determined. Before deploying the system, we need to check whether the batteries can be securely deployed in locations effective for defense by conducting a study on the deployment feasibility, including geographic, geological, radio wave environmental surveys and measurements. Under the current supplementary budget, we will gather information concerning the performance, design and other matters related to Aegis Ashore, and under the fiscal 2018 budget, we will conduct geological and other surveys concerning specific locations. After radio wave and geological conditions have been examined, we will start consultations with the local communities, as it will be necessary to obtain their understanding and cooperation.

Question:
By when do you think that the deployment locations should be determined?

Minister:
This requires various surveys. It is also necessary to obtain understanding and cooperation from the local communities, so in consideration of that, we would like to find as soon as possible the course of action that we should take.

Question:
Concerning Aegis Ashore, I assume that there are plans to use it not only for the purpose of BMD but also in order to deal with various future threats-I would not say a threat from China-such as cruise missiles. Could you offer your thoughts on how Aegis Ashore should be used?

Minister:
Under the current circumstances, Aegis Ashore will be used to deal with North Korean ballistic missiles in principle. Having said that, the government will consider how to use it in the future while examining future threats that Japan may face.

Question:
You mentioned the period of five years as a guideline timeframe, but North Korea will likely continue missile launches over that period. How will you deal with missiles during that period? Also, do you think that the introduction of Aegis Ashore will represent the completion of a near-perfect missile defense system?

Minister:
I expect that during the period until the start of full operation of Aegis Ashore, we will use the MSDF's Aegis-equipped destroyers in principle as we do now. The number of BMD-capable vessels will increase from the current four to five, and ultimately, we will have a fleet of eight vessels. It is first of all important to develop the defense readiness under this system. When Aegis Ashore is added to this, we will have a multi-layered missile defense system. However, we cannot afford to relax efforts to improve the missile defense capability. We will flexibly consider how to deal with missiles while carefully examining future threats.

Question:
Could you tell me what you discussed at your meeting with Chief of Operations Richardson yesterday?

Minister:
I would like to refrain from commenting on the details of the meeting with Chief of Operations Richardson out of consideration for our relationship with the U.S. side. Having said that, amid the increasingly severe security environment in the Asia-Pacific region, Chief of Operations Richardson and I reaffirmed the importance of the U.S. commitment to the extended deterrence for the peace and security of Japan and this region as was agreed at the Japan-U.S. 2+2 meeting on August 17 and the Japan-U.S. summit meeting on November 6. We also agreed that the United States is demonstrating its commitment to the Asia-Pacific region in a visible way by deploying more assets than before in the region, that the MOD has high regard for this and other U.S. activities, and that Japan and the United States will maintain defense cooperation and continue to improve the defense capabilities.

Question:
Previously, Chief of Operations Richardson mentioned a plan to reinforce the Seventh Fleet. Did you discuss that?

Minister:
I am aware that Naval Chief of Operations Richardson stated that in order to cover the gap between the workload and the fleet size, deploying additional personnel and increasing the number of ships is the only option. In the latest meeting, both countries fully recognized the importance of the Seventh Fleet. However, I do not think that the United States has a firm plan for the moment.

Question:
Concerning the fall of a window from the U.S. Forces' helicopter, do you think that the recurrence prevention measure explained by the U.S. side will prevent similar accidents in the future?

Minister:
Concerning the recurrence prevention measure explained by the U.S. side at this time, we would like the U.S. side to appropriately manage the window safety wire problem.

Question:
In earlier cases, the United States also said it would take prevention measures concerning human error. What do you think of the fact that accidents due to human error are recurring?

Minister:
Concerning the recurrence of accidents, we are fully aware that there is strong anxiety among the pupils of Futenma Second Elementary School and other relevant people and the people of Okinawa. The MOD is strongly requesting the U.S. side to avoid flying over schools in accordance with the flight routes agreed upon between Japan and the United States. The U.S. side replied that the crew members of all aircraft arriving at and departing from MCAS Futenma have been instructed to avoid flying over all schools including Futenma Second Elementary School as much as possible. Our understanding is that "to avoid flying over schools as much as possible" means that aircraft will not fly over schools in principle. In addition to the measure being taken by the U.S., we will install a camera on the roof of Futenma Second Elementary School, and if U.S. aircraft fly over the school, we will immediately report to the U.S. side.

Question:
Measures to prevent the falling of objects have not been taken. What are your thoughts on that point?

Minister:
Concerning the falling of a window in this incident, as was explained by the U.S. side, this would have been prevented by appropriately fixing the window safety wire and checking it before flight, as the SDF was doing when using the same type of helicopter. Therefore, we will request the U.S. side to make sure that those measures are taken.

Question:
According to yesterday's announcement, the U.S. Forces will draw up a flight map indicating locations over which flight should be avoided. As such a map has not yet been presented, how will the MOD check the flight routes and ensure that aircraft do not fly over flight-restricted areas?

Minister:
The MOD is routinely monitoring the flight routes of aircraft flying over MCAS Futenma. We will cross-check the records against the U.S. side's pledge to avoid flying over schools.

Question:
Concerning the Basic Plan on Ocean Policy, an experts' opinion paper was worked out yesterday with respect to the next plan. The paper treats security as a priority matter. Could you comment on that and tell me what cooperation the SDF can offer?

Minister:
I understand that ahead of the formulation of the next Basic Plan on Ocean Policy scheduled for next spring, an advisory group to the Headquarters for Ocean Policy worked out the basic approaches that should be adopted in the next Basic Plan on Ocean Policy with respect to the main themes, such as maritime security, promotion of industrial use of oceans, maintenance and preservation of the maritime environment, and the development of maritime human resources. In preparation for the formulation of the next Basic Plan on Ocean Policy, the government will conduct an appropriate study in consideration of this opinion paper, so the MOD will conduct a study in cooperation with relevant ministries and agencies, including the Cabinet Office, while appropriately taking into consideration the paper's contents.

Question:
Yesterday, Foreign Minister Kono mentioned his hope to allocate budgetary funds for the introduction of aircraft dedicated to use by the foreign minister. If such aircraft is to be operated in the same way as Japanese Air Force One is, it may be owned by the SDF. What are your thoughts on that?

Minister:
No decision has been made within the government on what should be done, and if the decision is made within the government, the MOD will offer cooperation where possible.

Question:
In relation to the accident in Okinawa, from the briefing provided by the MOD staff yesterday, it was clear that the MOD had not received explanations from the U.S. side with respect to the details of the cause of the accident and other details such as the status of the wire. On the other hand, each time an accident like this occurs Okinawa Prefecture and the Japanese people are demanding explanations from the MOD, and the MOD is caught in a dilemma. If this situation continues, the MOD would be at times open to criticism that it cannot do anything on its own, as Governor Onaga describes. Do you think that this situation will continue to be inevitable? Or do you think that it is necessary to create a system under which Japan and the United States can better cooperate with each other with respect to the U.S. Forces' operations? Could you offer your thoughts on that point?

Minister:
Various accidents and incidents occur in Okinawa. When an accident or incident happens, the Foreign Ministry, as the authority responsible for foreign affairs, should naturally handle the relationship with the United States. Regarding matters related to the U.S. Forces' operations, the MOD possesses similar knowledge concerning operations. That is why such matters are handled mainly by the Okinawa Defense Bureau. For our part, what's most important is that the U.S. side ensures operational safety. As the Japanese defense authority, we are ready to offer cooperation where possible.

Question:
Do you not think that it is necessary to create a system under which Japan can proactively be involved in matters related to the U.S. Forces?

Minister:
I assume that the U.S. side is thinking about its own operational matters, and even if we want to offer cooperation, we do not know whether the U.S. side will accept the offer. However, we hope that the U.S. side will take care to ensure operational and flight safety.

Question:
What the MOD can do about this case is limited. It is up to the U.S. Forces to make a final decision on operational matters. Although media reports may say that the MOD is tolerating the resumption of flight operation, the ultimate authority on whether or not to give the go-ahead for flights belongs to the U.S. side. Could you offer your personal thoughts on the fact that the MOD gets caught in a dilemma as it is torn between the current situation-what it can do is limited-and your wish to accommodate the feelings of the people of Okinawa?

Minister:
There is strong anxiety among the people of Okinawa, and our thoughts are with them. If a window like that falls onto a school where their children are attending, parents would naturally be worried. As a parent, I would also be worried. This problem needs to be handled not only by the MOD but by the whole of the government. Naturally, not only the MOD but also the foreign affairs authority needs to handle the relationship with the U.S. side. A fundamental solution to this problem will be possible if it is handled by the whole of the government.

Question:
In relation to the Futenma incident, you said that a camera will be installed at Futenma Second Elementary School to check whether or not aircraft fly over it. Are you not considering installing cameras at other schools, from kindergartens and nursery schools to universities?

Minister:
First of all, as a trial, we will install a camera at Futenma Second Elementary School, where the latest incident occurred, and we will consider what to do in the future while holding consultations with the local communities.

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