TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan may deploy Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptor missiles at air bases nationwide, Kyodo news said on Saturday, as part of a new five-year defense plan to be released later this month.
The Japanese Self-Defense Forces also plan to increase the number of submarines patrolling the seas off Okinawa in southern Japan, where is it locked in a territorial dispute with China.
The move to deploy missile interceptors comes amid heightened regional tensions following North Korea's deadly artillery shelling of the South last month.
The PAC-3 missile system is designed to shoot down an incoming missile from the ground before it lands. It will be deployed on ships as well as air bases, Kyodo cited government and defense officials as saying.
Japan will announce the National Defense Program Guideline (NDPG) covering the period from fiscal 2011/2012 starting in April laying out defense priorities. It will be the first review in six years and also the first under the Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) government, which swept to power last year.
Kyodo said the new defense policy guidelines also include a plan to increase the number of submarines from 16 to 22 to beef up vigilance on islands around Okinawa.
Vice Defense Minister Jun Azumi told Reuters in an interview this week that Japan should improve its defense capability in the southwest where it shares a maritime border with China, adding Beijing's military buildup has increased regional instability.
"Our attention was on the north during the Cold War. But we have to shift our focus to the defense of southwest ... The most important step to strengthen our defense over the next 10 years is to secure the mobility (of our troops)," Azumi said in the interview.
Sino-Japanese relations deteriorated sharply after September, when Japan detained a Chinese trawler captain whose boat collided with Japanese patrol ships near a chain of disputed islands in the East China Sea, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China.
Reporting by Chikako Mogi; Editing by Sanjeev Miglani