PAC-3s Okinawa-bound for North Korean launch

Kyodo, AFP-JIJI

The Maritime Self-Defense Force transport ship Kunisaki left Monday morning from the MSDF base in Kure, Hiroshima Prefecture, carrying missile interceptors to be deployed in Okinawa for North Korea’s stated plan to launch a satellite.

The ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors are to be deployed at several locations in Okinawa. The Kunisaki and another MSDF transport, the Osumi, are to arrive at Okinawa in a few days.

North Korea announced Saturday that it plans to launch an “Earth observation satellite” between Dec. 10 and 22, following an unsuccessful attempt to launch a long-range rocket in April.

The first stage has been placed in position at the North’s Sohae launch station, a South Korean government source told Yonhap news agency.

In notifying its neighbors, Pyongyang said the launch window would be between 7 a.m. and noon on any day in the period, Yonhap quoted a Foreign Ministry official as saying.

According to the notice, the first stage will fall into the Yellow Sea off the west coast of the Korean Peninsula and the second would come down in the sea some 190 km east of the Philippines.

The flight path could include areas around Okinawa.

Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto issued an order Saturday to prepare to destroy the rocket if necessary if the launch takes place.

In its abortive launch in April, North Korea plotted a similar route and Japan deployed PAC-3s to Okinawa Island, Miyako Island and Ishigaki Island, in addition to the Tokyo metropolitan area.

On Monday, Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda said the government will take all necessary measures to swiftly disclose information on the launch.

“We will make efforts so the correct information will be available to the Japanese people,” Noda said. His remarks come after the government was criticized for an embarrassing delay in announcing the previous launch.

In April, the government failed to announce a rocket had blasted off from North Korea until about 40 minutes after Pyongyang actually launched it, despite having obtained information about the launch from U.S. forces. It said the notification was delayed because it needed to “double-check” the facts.