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Japan warily makes plans for NK rocket flight

Date Posted: 2012-04-06

Pyongyang’s countdown to a mid-April launch of a rocket that analysts say could travel over South Korea and Japan is in progress, and Japan’s making contingency plans to intercept it and shoot it down if it ventures into Japanese territory.

Japan’s Defense Minister has ordered Japanese Self Defense Force units to get into position, and to be prepared to take action if the North Korean rocket flies over Japanese territory. The launch is expected to take place between April 12th and 16th, on a path that could bring it over western Japan. Naoki Tanaki issued the order at a meeting of the National Security Council, formalizing guidance he’s been issuing over the past two weeks.

The Defense Minister is ordering Aegis missile system equipped destroyers into the Pacific, and the East China Sea, while GSDF units will deploy its Patriot missile launchers in Okinawa. Reports also indicate contingency plans to place Patriot units in the greater Tokyo, despite the fact the nation’s capital is far from the anticipated flight path.

The ministry began work last Friday to deploy ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors The Japanese ministry will deploy the interceptors to Naha and Nanjo in Okinawa's main island as well as remote Miyako and Ishigaki islands. Air Self-Defense Force units will be dispatched to Okinawa from bases in Gifu, Shiga and Mie prefectures. The first unit is already in Miyako, carrying a missile launcher and other equipment into the island by Tuesday.

In order to prepare for contingencies, including the possibility of a missile falling onto Japan, the Ground SDF will dispatch rescue units to the Okinawan islands of Ishigaki and Yonaguni, which have no SDF bases. Liaison personnel will be dispatched to other isolated islands.

North Korea says its launch will send a satellite into orbit to study natural resources and farm crops, but the international community, including Japan and the United States, say the missile is being tested for future use on weapons-carrying long-range missiles. That would be a violation of international agreements.

South Korea has also announced it might deploy units with a mission of shooting down the rocket, or debris from it, should it venture over its territory. Japan mobilized interceptor units in 2009 when North Korea launched a rocket, but did not deploy them.

Defense officials say the missiles on Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force ship would be the nation’s first line of defense, while Patriot missiles, which are land based, will be a backup. Japan has tested interceptor missiles, but has never been prepared to use them in a real world situation.

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