NAHA, OKINAWA PREF. – The Self-Defense Forces on Thursday completed the deployment of its ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors in Okinawa Prefecture to prepare for North Korea’s rocket launch next week.
The interceptor missiles have been deployed in four locations in Okinawa: Naha and Nanjo, as well as Miyako and Ishigaki islands.
Japan is bracing for the rocket launch after North Korea announced last month that it will launch an “Earth observation satellite” to mark the centennial of state founder Kim Il Sung’s birthday on April 15.
Japan and other nations believe, however, that the launch is actually a long-range ballistic missile test that will violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The SDF brought about 30 vehicles to Ishigaki, including the Air Self-Defense Force’s two PAC-3 launchers and ammunition. The PAC-3 will be deployed at a reclaimed area near Ishigaki port, since the SDF has no facilities there. The other PAC-3s were carried earlier this week to the ASDF’s Naha base, Chinen base in the city of Nanjo and Miyakojima base in Miyakojima city.
To prepare for the North Korean rocket, about 450 SDF personnel will be dispatched to Ishigaki. PAC-3s will also be deployed to SDF bases or training areas in the Tokyo metropolitan area, namely Ichigaya, Narashino and Asaka, in the following days.
The PAC-3 deployment to seven locations in Okinawa and the Tokyo area went into full swing after Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka ordered the SDF to intercept a North Korean rocket if necessary to prevent the rocket and its debris from falling on Japanese territory.
North Korea has continued to defy international calls to abandon its plan and said the launch will take place sometime between April 12 and 16 from 7 a.m. to noon Japan time. Tanaka’s order is valid until April 16.
The North has said the first stage of the rocket will come down in waters west of South Korea, while the second stage will fly over airspace near Ishigaki in the Sakishima island chain in Okinawa and fall east of the Philippines’ Luzon Island.
Although the government says chances are low that the rocket or its debris will fall on Japanese land, Japan wants to be ready in case the launch malfunctions and the rocket veers from its projected trajectory. In addition to the PAC-3s, the Defense Ministry said three Aegis-equipped destroyers carrying the sea-based Standard Missile-3 interceptors will also be deployed.
Under the ministry’s two-tiered defense missile shield, the SM-3 will be used to intercept a ballistic missile outside the Earth’s atmosphere. If the interceptor misses the target, the PAC-3 will be used to shoot down the target as it re-enters the atmosphere.
The Aegis-equipped destroyers Myoko, Chokai and Kirishima will be deployed to the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea, which is near Okinawa, to defend the Tokyo metropolitan and other areas that may be affected in the event the rocket veers from its trajectory.
But if the rocket does deviate, Tanaka has indicated that current missile defense technology cannot protect the whole of Japan from the rocket or its fragments falling on its territory. In addition to having the uniformed SDF personnel on standby, the central government is also preparing a nationwide emergency alert system that will notify the local governments of information relating to the rocket launch.