• Kyodo


Japan is considering issuing to its Self-Defense Forces a standing order to shoot down any projectile heading toward its territory, amid concerns of a heightening threat from North Korea’s missile program, a Japanese government source said Friday.

The government has so far issued intercept orders on a case-by-case basis when signs of launch preparations by North Korea have been detected.

The move comes after Japanese and South Korean authorities said North Korea launched a ballistic missile Wednesday that fell near Japanese territorial waters in the Sea of Japan.

The proposal to make the SDF ready to intercept projectiles at any time reflects concerns that the use of mobile launch pads could make North Korean missile launch preparations difficult to detect in advance, the source said.

The SDF may find executing such an order challenging, with current personnel and equipment levels thought insufficient to maintain a constant state of readiness.

Executing past orders has involved the Maritime Self-Defense Force deploying its Aegis destroyers equipped with Standard Missile-3 interceptors at sea and the Air Self-Defense Force installing batteries of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 surface-to-air guided interceptors on the Defense Ministry’s premises in central Tokyo and in surrounding areas.

No such order was issued ahead of Wednesday’s missile launch, the sources said. The warhead component of what is estimated to have been a medium-range Rodong missile, thought capable of reaching Japan with its estimated range of up to 1,300 kilometers, fell into the exclusive economic zone in the Sea of Japan for the first time.

According to the source, North Korea is thought to have used mobile launchers, resulting in the launch preparations going undetected.

Newly appointed Defense Minister Tomomi Inada, who would be tasked with issuing the order to the SDF, refrained Friday from going into detail on potential responses to the missile threat.

“We’re constantly considering improvements to our vigilance and surveillance arrangements,” she said at a news conference.

The ministry does not make public the issuing or cancellation of the intercept orders, which under the SDF law is given in response to either a recognized threat that a projectile could reach Japanese territory or an unspecified threat in volatile circumstances that warrant preparations.

The first known intercept order was given in 2009, when North Korea carried out a missile launch ostensibly to put a satellite into Earth’s orbit.

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