WASHINGTON, Jan 2 (Reuters) - Japan is boosting its fledgling shield against ballistic missiles, Lockheed Martin Corp (LMT.N) said Wednesday, reflecting moves at sea to defend against a perceived threat from North Korea.
Lockheed won a $40.4 million deal to add missile-defense capability to a third of four Japanese Kongo-class destroyers, the Myoko, the U.S. Defense Department said on Friday.
A contract for the fourth ship, Kirishima, now looks set “to follow by year’s end, if not sooner,” said Ken Ross, a Lockheed spokesman in Moorestown, New Jersey.
In addition, Bethesda, Maryland-based Lockheed hopes Japan eventually will add similar capabilities to its two newest destroyers, just as the U.S. Navy is planning, he said.
Japan, the closest U.S. partner in missile defense, also has also deployed ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile interceptors amid concern about North Korean arms.
Tokyo’s interest in missile defense was spurred by North Korea’s surprise test-firing of a three-stage Taepo Dong 1 ballistic missile over the main Japanese island of Honshu on Aug. 31, 1998.
Lockheed, the Pentagon’s No. 1 supplier by sales, won an initial $124 million contract in 2005 to outfit the first of the Kongo-class destroyers to defend against missiles that could be tipped with chemical, nuclear or germ warheads.
On Dec. 17, Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyer Kongo shot down a medium-range ballistic missile target above the Pacific in the first such test by a U.S. ally.
Lockheed is the Pentagon’s primary contractor for Aegis, a ship-based combat system built to defend against air, surface and subsurface threats.
With its ballistic-missile upgrades, the system is the heart of the sea-based leg of an emerging, multibillion-dollar U.S. antimissile shield configured to guard against North Korea and Iran.
Japan’s second Kongo-class destroyer, Chokai, is being upgraded under a $33 million foreign military sales contract awarded to Lockheed on Aug. 7. The second Japanese intercept test is planned to take place late this year, Ross said.
In announcing the deal for outfitting the third Japanese ship, the Pentagon said last week the work was expected to be wrapped up by November 2009.
The completion of each of the four planned Japanese installations, through 2010, is to be followed by a flight test to demonstrate know-how .
The Aegis weapon system is deployed on 83 ships worldwide, according to Lockheed. In addition to those of the United States and Japan, systems that could be upgraded for missile defense are used by Spain, Norway, South Korea and Australia. (Reporting by Jim Wolf, editing by Gerald E. McCormick)