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HAMAMATSU, Shizuoka Pref. (Kyodo) The Air Self-Defense Force began moving Patriot missile defense batteries from central Japan to northern Honshu on Sunday in anticipation of North Korea launching a test rocket.

The units, which fire Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles, will back up the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Aegis guided-missile destroyers that are moving to the Sea of Japan and the Pacific Ocean ahead of the launch.

North Korea says it will place a satellite in orbit between next Saturday and April 8. Japan, South Korea and the United States believe the launch is a cover for test-firing a long-range ballistic missile, which is expected to fly over northeastern Japan.

Under the plan, the MSDF destroyers are to detect and track the North Korean rocket. If it or any part of it appears to be on a trajectory to hit Japan, the ships will try to knock it down outside the Earth’s atmosphere with their Standard Missile-3s.

If the destroyers fail to intercept the rocket, the ASDF will try to shoot it down with the PAC-3 missiles before it hits the ground.

The ASDF will deploy a PAC-3 battery in a Ground Self-Defense Force exercise area in Akita Prefecture and in a GSDF exercise area in Iwate Prefecture. The launchers from the ASDF’s Hamamatsu base in Shizuoka Prefecture are expected to arrive at their destinations Monday.

According to the ASDF, a single PAC-3 battery is capable of defending a 20-km radius. Therefore, the launchers can only defend a small part of northeastern Japan, including the cities of Akita and Morioka.

The government says the possibility of the missile falling onto Japanese territory is extremely low.

But to prepare for any possibility, such as the launch encountering some trouble, the government ordered the Self-Defense Forces on Friday to destroy the rocket if it threatens to drop toward the country’s waters or soil.

The sea-launched SM-3 interceptors and the ground-based PAC-3 missiles together constitute the core of Japan’s ballistic missile shield. This could be the first time they will be used in a real-life situation.

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