Japan refuels U.S. missile defense ships keeping eye on North Korea
Japan’s Navy is supplying fuel to U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) ships in the Sea of Japan as a sign of deepening cooperation between the allies amid the growing threat from North Korea.
By providing fuel to the U.S. Aegis destroyers as well as its own BMD ships, Japan hopes to ensure patrols can be maintained without unnecessary gaps, said a source with knowledge of the operation. The refueling began in April 2017, The Nikkei newspaper reported.
North Korea in September 2017 threatened to sink Japan with nuclear weapons for “dancing to the tune” of the United States for backing a U.N. Security Council resolution that imposed fresh sanctions on Pyongyang.
The U.S. Navy’s 7th Fleet usually has about six Aegis ships assigned to BMD operations around Japan. Japan operates four ships of its own. They are armed with interceptors designed to shoot down warheads in space before they plunge to their targets. About half of the ships would normally be at sea at any one time. (Pictured: The guided-missile destroyer USS Benfold, based in Yokosuka, Japan, was one of the first ships to be fitted with the Aegis ballistic missile system.)
In 2015, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s administration won lawmaker approval to expand the role of the nation’s military under the country’s pacifist constitution. The change allows the military to take on a bigger role in its alliance with Washington, including resupplying and defending U.S. ships.
Japan has delivered fuel to U.S. ships in the past under ad hoc legislation, including vessels deployed to support military operations in Afghanistan a decade ago. This is the first time, however, it has been done under the new security law.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the allies would cooperate on such refueling efforts, but he declined to comment on Aegis fuel shipments due to security considerations.