Aegis destroyers carrying Standard Missile-3 interceptors will be deployed to the Sea of Japan to prepare for a possible North Korean missile launch, defense sources said Tuesday.
North Korea claims it is preparing to launch a satellite into orbit, but Japan’s missile defense guideline allows the defense minister to order an intercept when a rocket to launch a satellite appears likely to fall onto Japanese soil or territorial waters.
“We would have no other choice but to intercept,” said a senior Maritime Self-Defense Force officer, referring to a case in which a missile or rocket is launched and appears headed for Japan.
But if Japan fires an interceptor, this will heighten tensions with North Korea, the sources said.
The MSDF destroyers Kongou and Chokai — the two ships with SM-3 interceptor missiles among Japan’s six Aegis destroyers — may be sent to the Sea of Japan as a precautionary measure in cooperation with the U.S. military, a senior Defense Ministry official said.
The steps would be taken based on a missile interception provision added to the Self-Defense Forces Law in 2005.
The government will base its decision on the provision, which offers several scenarios for action.
Officials said that if Japan confirms a launch has occurred, the prime minister may grant the authority to intercept to the defense minister via a Cabinet meeting and a commander may carry out the interception.
If there is no launch verification, but there is a development that calls for caution, the defense minister may put SDF units on standby for a certain period and a commander may carry out an interception in the event of a launch.
North Korea is allegedly preparing to launch an improved version of its Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile.
In August 1998, when North Korea fired what is believed to have been a Taepodong-1 missile, part of which flew over Japan and into the Pacific Ocean, Pyongyang claimed it had successfully test-launched a satellite-carrying rocket.
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