National / Politics

Japan eases alert level for North Korean ballistic missile launches


Japan has lowered its alert level for North Korean ballistic missile launches amid diminishing tensions following the historic summit between the U.S. and North Korean leaders last month, government sources said Monday.

As a result, the Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Aegis vessels, which are equipped with Standard Missile-3 interceptors, will no longer remain in the Sea of Japan as previously, the sources said. But the vessels will still be prepared to intercept missiles within about 24 hours if signs of a possible launch are detected.

The government, meanwhile, will keep in place a standing order issued to the Self-Defense Forces in 2016 to shoot down any projectile heading toward Japanese territory.

The government had previously issued intercept orders on a case-by-case basis when detecting signs of missile launch preparations.

The SDF will also continue to station Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile interceptors in western and northern Japan along the path a North Korean ballistic missile would travel if Pyongyang follows through on its past threat to attack the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

But members of the Air Self-Defense Force units in charge of the PAC-3 anti-missile operations will not have to remain at their posts and will be allowed more flexibility in their operations, the sources said.

The security situation has changed dramatically compared with last year, when North Korea fired about 20 ballistic missiles, two of which flew over Japanese territory, and detonated its most powerful nuclear weapon to date.

“We are no longer in a severe security situation in which we do not know when missiles will fly toward Japan,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference June 13, the day after U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met in Singapore.

The government has already announced the cancellation of evacuation exercises preparing local residents for North Korean missile launches, which had been scheduled nationwide in the current fiscal year ending March.

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