Japanese defense planners are getting another taste of that unwelcome problem now. Although Abe and his visionary predecessor, Junichiro Koizumi, had no hesitation in making ballistic missile defense their nation's most crucial, overriding military procurement and planning priority, their hard-charging plans have been derailed by municipal planners concerned about building apartment buildings with nice views.
Japan's Defense Ministry is rushing through a change of plans about where to deploy the Patriot PAC-3s for its BMD interceptor system that is being developed in close cooperation with the United States. The Defense Ministry may now be forced to put its state-of-the-art interceptors in public parks in the heart of Tokyo, the nation's capital and largest city, the Asahi Shimbun newspaper reported Saturday.
The move would be a radical contrast to U.S. and Russian ABM deployment policies. For security and other reasons, both nations usually deploy at military or air bases outside their major cities or in different parts of the country.
However, the Japanese BMD program, like the Israeli, Indian and Taiwanese ones, is designed to intercept intermediate-range ballistic missiles and not long-range ICBMs as the U.S. and Russian programs are. Also, unlike the United States and Russia, Japan is not a huge continental power with vast areas of sparsely populated or unpopulated land but a small, densely populated island.
Asahi Shimbun said the surprise decision was taken because it was discovered that a high-rise building was being built near the originally chosen site for the Patriots launching pad.
"In the case of a missile attack on the nerve center of the central government, including the prime minister's office, the Diet and ministries, the Defense Ministry plans to use the Ground Self-Defense Force's Ichigaya compound in Shinjuku Ward as a site for the Patriot Advanced Capability 3 defense system," the newspaper said.
However, a 38-story apartment building close to 400 feet high is being built close to what experts say would be the ideal interception flight path for the Patriots against ballistic missiles that might be fired against Tokyo from North Korea. This has forced the Japanese Defense Ministry to explore the possibility of deploying the interceptors in other sites, Asahi Shimbun said.
Other possibilities being looked at include Japanese Ground Self Defense Force's base in Tokyo's Nerima Ward, Yoyogi Park in Shibuya Ward and Harumi Port Park in Chuo Ward, the report said.
"We will need relatively large public areas for the project," a senior Defense Ministry official told the newspaper.
The decision will probably be taken quickly. Asahi Shimbun also reported that the Defense Ministry plans to carry out Patriot PAC-3 what the paper called practice drills in those three locations as early as this month. But it has to clear some bureaucratic red tape first. The Tokyo metropolitan government and other authorities have to approve any such exercises in their public parks first.
Asahi Shimbun noted that the PAC-3 was made operational at the Air Self Defense Force's Iruma Base in Saitama Prefecture in late March with the mission of providing BMD cover for the Tokyo metropolitan area.
PAC-3s have an interception range of higher than 6 miles or 30,000 feet -- similar to the reported altitude of the Russian S-300 air defense system, and they have a range of around 12 miles, Asahi Shimbun said.
In case of emergencies, the Japanese Defense Ministry plans to move the interceptors to its Ichigaya compound, which, Japanese planners believe, is a more favorable location to protect the center of the city.
Ironically, the new high-rise apartment building is being erected now because of tight government security in the first place, the newspaper said. The Japanese government did not place any restrictions on the construction of high-rise buildings in areas near locations where it planned to deploy the PAC-3s because the Defense Ministry did not want to publicly reveal their launch sites as that might make them the targets of pre-emptive attacks.
The whole affair looks unlikely to significantly slow down the crash deployment of the Patriots that Prime Minister Abe has insisted upon. But it is a sobering demonstration of the fact that his sense of urgency is not shared by many officials at the local level, and how their long-established, leisurely, complicated pace of doing business can delay or derail crucial programs essential for national security, and even survival.