By Jim Wolf
WASHINGTON | Wed Aug 15, 2012 6:24pm EDT
(Reuters) - The United States and Japan are discussing system upgrades for a pair of Japanese destroyers to boost defenses against a ballistic missile attack, an executive at the Pentagon's top contractor said Wednesday.
The potential multimillion-dollar updates to two Atago-class guided-missile destroyers would provide cutting-edge "Aegis" ballistic missile defenses equivalent to those being added to U.S. Navy ships, said Nick Bucci, who heads such maritime programs at Lockheed Martin Corp.
Japan, rattled by North Korean nuclear arms and ballistic missile tests, has emerged as the most important U.S. partner in crafting a layered shield against missiles of all ranges and in all phases of flight.
The United States has been spending roughly $10 billion a year on the overall project, a reflection of concern chiefly about North Korea and Iran.