TOKYO - Japan may accelerate around $1 billion of planned spending to upgrade its ballistic missile defenses in the wake of rocket tests suggesting North Korea is close to fielding a more potent medium-range missile, three government sources told Reuters.
The outlays, currently in a budget request for the year starting April, includes money to assess a new missile defense layer - either Lockheed Martin Corp's Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system or Aegis Ashore, a land-based version of the ballistic missile defense system used by vessels in the Sea of Japan.
It also covers money to improve the range and accuracy of PAC-3 Patriot batteries, said the sources familiar with the proposal, who asked not to be identified because they are not authorized to talk to the media.
Any rollout of THAAD or Aegis Ashore could, however, still take years, the sources noted. Accelerated spending on Patriot missile batteries is also unlikely to deliver upgrades much quicker because of the limited capacity of the companies involved - Mitsubishi Heavy Industries and Raytheon Co - to speed up already tight production schedules.
"It nonetheless has symbolic value," said one of the sources.