Photo/IllutrationA Defense Ministry official emphasizes the importance of the Aegis Ashore missile defense system at a meeting with members of the Hagi municipal assembly in Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, on July 20. (Kunihiro Hayashi)

  • Photo/Illustraion

Local opposition has forced the central government to postpone bidding for geological surveys at the planned sites of the increasingly expensive Aegis Ashore missile defense system in Akita and Yamaguchi prefectures.

The Defense Ministry was originally scheduled to offer the public tenders on July 26 and open the bidding on Aug. 2 to choose the entities that will conduct the geological surveys at the sites.

But it decided on July 25 to push back the public tenders until Sept. 5-7 and open the bidding on Sept. 12.

The decision was made after Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera effectively retracted his original estimate of 80 billion yen ($720 million) per unit of the U.S.-made missile defense system amid speculation that the costs will snowball.

The central government plans to deploy the Aegis Ashore system at the Ground Self-Defense Force’s maneuvering grounds in the prefectural capital of Akita in northern Japan and in Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture, the westernmost prefecture on Honshu, to counter potential missiles from North Korea and China.

But the Hagi city government submitted a written request for Onodera to postpone the tender, indicating that the city is not ready for the deployment.

Norihiko Hanada, mayor of neighboring Abu in Yamaguchi Prefecture, requested a meeting with Keitaro Ono, parliamentary secretary for defense, on July 25 to convey the town’s opposition to the deployment.

The mayor told reporters that the planned deployment “has not gained local residents’ understanding.”

A Defense Ministry official visited Akita Prefecture on July 23 to brief local officials about the project. However, both the Akita prefectural government and Akita city have asked the ministry to postpone the bidding process.

On a TV program in August last year, Onodera described the Aegis Ashore system as “economical and a good bargain,” compared with an Aegis vessel that comes with a price tag of 170 billion yen.

At the Upper House Budget Committee in November, Onodera gave an estimate of 80 billion yen for one Aegis Ashore system.

However, the ministry later revised the figure to about 100 billion yen, including the cost to build a facility to house the system.

Onodera effectively retracted his earlier estimate at a news conference on July 24.

“I have never mentioned how much the Aegis Ashore is estimated at,” he said.

He added that the price of about 100 billion yen was simply a reference.

Some ministry officials expect the deployment of two units will cost more than 500 billion yen together, given the expenses needed to introduce a new radar system manufactured by Lockheed Martin Corp. and other factors.