The government said Friday it will permanently deploy Patriot antimissile batteries in Okinawa amid repeated threats by North Korea to launch missiles that could strike anywhere in Japan.
Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said the Self-Defense Forces will locate Patriot Advanced Capability-3 batteries at its two bases in Okinawa “as soon as possible within April.”
The SDF has previously transported the missiles to the prefecture in response to specific threats. The interceptors were not fired during the previous two temporary deployments for missile tests by North Korea.
The government had earlier planned to deploy the PAC-3 batteries permanently in Okinawa by fiscal 2014, but given Pyongyang’s continuing provocations, including threats to hit U.S. military bases in Japan, the deployment has been brought forward.
Onodera stressed it is “unforgivable” that North Korea has repeated provocative acts.
He met Friday with Maj. Gen. Andrew O’Donnell, deputy commander of U.S. Forces Japan, who underscored the two countries are sharing all kinds of information on the possible launch of North Korean missiles.
Tensions have been running high since North Korea issued recent statements that it could start a war with the United States and South Korea over their joint military drill and a U.N. Security Council resolution to imposes additional sanctions for its nuclear test in February.
Japan remains on alert, with officials saying speculation has been mounting that North Korea could test-fire ballistic missiles around Monday, the anniversary of the birth of national founder Kim Il Sung, grandfather of the current leader, Kim Jong Un.
The country tends to demonstrate its military might around that date.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that the government “is taking all possible measures to protect people’s lives and safety and will not be deluded by North Korean provocations.”
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe ordered the SDF this week to shoot down any incoming missiles from North Korea, and the SDF has sent Aegis-equipped destroyers capable of missile interception to the Sea of Japan while setting up PAC-3 missile defense units at key locations in Tokyo and surrounding areas.
Nakaima seeks changes
NAHA, Okinawa Pref.
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima on Friday urged Japan and the United States to change the agreement on the return of facilities and land used by the U.S. military in Okinawa.
“Even if we are told that we should implement it because it has been decided between the (two) governments, it would be hard to do so for something that has been decided without local involvement,” Nakaima said.
His remarks came after Japan and the United States agreed on April 5 that land south of the U.S. Kadena Air Base should be returned between the current fiscal year and fiscal 2028, or later.
The plan on land return has prompted some municipalities in Okinawa to raise concerns about bearing the burden of becoming sites that will replace those that are returned.
The agreement also stated that the schedule for returning land occupied by U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma is “fiscal 2022 or later.”
The replacement of Futenma within the prefecture has long been a thorny issue between Okinawa and the central government.
Nakaima reiterated his opposition to the current plan for moving Futenma.