SASEBO, NAGASAKI PREF. – Three Maritime Self-Defense Force destroyers armed with the Aegis missile defense system left the MSDF base in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, on Thursday morning to prepare for North Korea’s launch of what is believed to be a long-range ballistic missile.
The destroyers Myoko, Kongo and Chokai are expected to be deployed to the East China Sea or the Sea of Japan.
The U.S. Navy will also deploy an Aegis destroyer and the USNS Observation Island missile range instrumentation vessel to possibly intercept the North Korean missile in cooperation with the MSDF.
North Korea earlier this month announced plans to launch what it claims is a satellite-carrying rocket between next Monday and Dec. 22.
The Aegis destroyers will track the North Korean missile on their radars and destroy it with the Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors in outer space if it threatens to fall on Japanese territory or territorial waters.
If the SM-3 attempt fails, Japan will use the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air missile system to destroy the missile as it descends in the atmosphere.
The government plans to make a formal decision Friday on whether to intercept the long-range ballistic missile North Korea plans to launch possibly next week.
Following the decision by the Security Council of Japan, Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto will order the Self-Defense Forces to destroy any missile heading toward Japan from North Korea.
North Korea has given notice that it will launch the rocket between Monday and Dec. 22.
The Defense Ministry plans to finish preparations for the interception shortly.
A similar order was issued in April, when a North Korean missile launch ended in failure.
The ministry finds it necessary to take all possible measures, because the missile is expected to fly over the Sakishima island chain in Okinawa. The course is likely to be the same as that of the April launch, according to a booster fall zone forecast by North Korea.
The SDF will deploy PAC-3 batteries on the Okinawa islands of Ishigaki, Miyakojima and Okinawa. On Wednesday afternoon, an MSDF transport ship carrying PAC-3 batteries arrived at Ishigaki port.
U.S. forces at the ready
The U.S. military is cooperating with the Self-Defenses Forces to ensure public safety in the event that North Korea, in violation of a U.N. Security Council resolution, goes ahead with its plan to launch a long-range rocket, possibly next week, Lt. Gen. Salvatore Angelella, commander of U.S. Forces Japan, said Thursday.
“This is very dangerous situation and we do not support those actions by North Korea,” Angelella said at the Japan National Press Club in Tokyo.
Although he said he can’t discuss intelligence operation specifics, he stressed the U.S. military’s priority is to ensure the safety of citizens and territory.
“We are monitoring the situation closely and working very closely with the Self-Defense Forces and the Defense Ministry. . . . We are posting our forces along with the SDF, cooperating fully at the highest levels of our governments to ensure the safety of (the) population and territory,” he said. “And we have that capability.”
North Korea announced Saturday it will launch a rocket it claims will be carrying a satellite into space, sometime between Dec. 10 and 22. The U.S., Japan and other countries believe Pyongyang is trying to test its intercontinental ballistic missile technology.
The SDF is deploying Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors on the Okinawa islands of Ishigaki, Miyakojima and Okinawa, as well as at the SDF Ichigaya headquarters in Shinjuku Ward, Tokyo. The ministry plans to complete the deployments Monday.
Three Maritime Self-Defense Force Aegis-equipped destroyers also left the MSDF base in Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, on Thursday to prepare to intercept the missile in the event it flies over Japanese territory.