The Defense Agency is gearing up to increase its surveillance of North Korea due to growing concern that Pyongyang may be planning to launch ballistic missiles, agency sources said Saturday.

The agency hopes to detect signs of a missile being prepared for launch in North Korea, such as the preparation of a launch pad or a missile being fueled, by intercepting radio traffic via communications posts across the nation or data from U.S. spy satellites.

If indications of an imminent launch are detected, the agency will move either of the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s two Aegis destroyers — stationed at Maizuru, Kyoto Prefecture, and at Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture — to the Sea of Japan, according to the sources.

In addition, the Air Self-Defense Force will step up monitoring of the skies over the Sea of Japan with its recently installed FPS4 fixed radar system, the sources said.

When North Korea test-launched a Taepodong-1 missile in August 1998 on a course that took it over the Japanese archipelago, an Aegis destroyer, equipped with a radar system able to monitor movements over several hundred kilometers, tracked its route — data that Japan used to refute North Korea’s claim that it was a satellite launch.

The FPS4 can also monitor movements over several hundred kilometers. An official of the agency expects it to be able to also track any missile.

Even with Japan’s own preparations, U.S. intelligence is likely to play a critical role, according to the sources. In the 1998 Taepodong launch, it was the United States that warned Japan in advance.

Japan, however, appears to be unable to do anything other than gather intelligence with its current defense equipment and capabilities, according to the sources.

Defense Agency Director General Shigeru Ishiba recently told a parliamentary panel that Japan would be unable to shoot down a North Korean missile.

Even if it turns out Japan is a target, “the Self-Defense Forces are not capable of attacking (the launch base),” a high-ranking agency official said.

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