Japanese Aegis ship leaves on likely mission to monitor possible North Korean missile launch


The Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Aegis-class destroyer Kirishima has set sail from its base in Yokosuka, apparently in preparation for a possible missile launch by North Korea.

The Kirishima left Wednesday night, informed sources said Friday. The Defense Ministry did not comment on the purpose of the departure.

Defense Minister Gen Nakatani has ordered the Self-Defense Forces to be on alert and intercept any North Korean missiles or debris threatening to fall onto Japanese territory, government officials said. The interception order, issued under the SDF law, was not disclosed.

As the first part of Japan’s two-layer missile shield, Aegis-class ships fire Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptors to destroy ballistic missiles in the upper atmosphere.

If the SM-3 missiles fail to destroy their targets, the Air SDF’s Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air missile batteries, deployed in Tokyo and other locations, will be used to shoot them down. Two PAC-3 units were deployed at the Defense Ministry in central Tokyo on Friday night.

North Korea has characterized its past launches of long-range ballistic missiles as operations to put satellites in orbit. Before the launches, it notified the International Maritime Organization of the locations where debris was expected to drop.

Failure to give prior notice to the IMO this time would undermine its claim of a satellite launch, a senior Defense Ministry official said. But in view of its recent behavior, North Korea may fire a missile without advance notice, the official said, adding that no optimism is warranted.

On Jan. 6, the reclusive country carried out a nuclear test, claiming it as its first successful detonation of a hydrogen bomb.

For its previous long-range missile launch, in December 2012, North Korea warned that it would fire a rocket from Tongchang-ri, on its northwestern coast, toward the south. The missile flew over Okinawa Prefecture, but the SDF did not make an interception attempt because there was no danger of it threatening Japanese territory.