As the clock ticks down on North Korea’s rocket launch, the government appears ready to use a sophisticated high-tech system designed to rapidly inform the nation of important information via the news media and municipalities.
The government is concerned that the rocket, which is expected to fly over the Tohoku region, could pose a threat to lives or property if the launch fails and the projectile or parts of it fall onto Japanese territory.
Officials say the possibility of any debris hitting Japan is extremely low as long as the launch goes according to plan, but the government, knowing it would draw public ire if it fails to act, is taking no chances.
It all goes according to plan, the moment North Korea launches a rocket from its eastern coast, which it says will happen sometime during the daytime between Saturday and Wednesday, a Defense Support Program satellite operated by the U.S. military will pick up the heat exhaust from the booster using an infrared sensor, according to Japanese officials.
The launch information will first be sent to the North American Aerospace Defense Command, the U.S.-Canadian command and control center in Colorado better known as NORAD, the officials said.
NORAD will relay the information to the Self-Defense Forces’ Central Command Post at the Defense Ministry via U.S. Forces Japan, which is headquartered at the U.S. Air Force’s Yokota base in the suburbs of Tokyo.
In addition, U.S. Forces Japan will send the information to the Air Self-Defense Force’s Air Defense Command, whose commander has been authorized to take charge of intercepting the rocket should it or parts of it appear to be falling onto Japan.
The satellite will also transmit its information to U.S. Navy Aegis destroyers deployed around Japan. The warships will share the information with the three Aegis destroyers of the Maritime Self-Defense Force deployed to the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean using a tactical data link system called Link 16, the officials said.
Information from the satellite will also be conveyed to the Japanese side via the mobile data processing system known as the Joint Tactical Ground Station, or JTAGS, which is deployed at the Misawa base in Aomori Prefecture.
Once launched, the rocket is expected to reach Japanese airspace within 10 minutes. The SDF will track it using radar aboard the MSDF destroyers as well as ground-based radar, using information provided by satellite, and attempt to intercept the rocket if necessary.
Upon receiving word of the launch, the SDF Central Command Post will convey the information to senior government officials, including Prime Minister Taro Aso, and ministries and agencies via an automatic voice message system.
The prime minister’s office will then notify municipalities across the country via the e-mail system called Em-Net. The message is expected to reach the recipients within one minute of its dispatch. The office will notify news organizations of the launch via e-mail around the same time.
The government expects the information to reach municipalities five to 10 minutes after the launch. It expects to inform them of where any object may have fallen 30 to 60 minutes after the launch.
The Em-Net will be put to use for the first time. Although few municipalities in the region potentially affected by the launch had installed the system on their computers until last month, all have since done so, the officials said.
It is still up to each municipality how to notify its residents. Many are expected to use the existing PA systems they use for disasters, such as earthquakes and fires.
Many people will likely learn of the event via news alerts on TV and radio. Government officials have advised people to tune in to news media for information.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Takeo Kawamura will hold a news conference within an hour or so of the launch.
North Korea said it will put a satellite into orbit between 11 a.m. and 4 p.m., local time, between Saturday and Wednesday, indicating the rocket’s boosters will fall into the Sea of Japan and the Pacific.