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Japan says it will intercept North Korean rocket if threatened

Japan has ordered missile units to intercept a long-range rocket expected to be launched by North Korea next month if the rocket – or any its fragments – threaten to hit the country.

 In this April 5, 2009 image made from KRT video, a rocket is lifted off from its launch pad in Musudan-ri, North Korea
In this April 5, 2009 image made from KRT video, a rocket is lifted off from its launch pad in Musudan-ri, North Korea
Image: AP Photo/KRT via AP Video, File

JAPAN’S DEFENCE MINISTER has ordered missile units to intercept a long-range rocket expected to be launched by North Korea next month if the rocket or its fragments threaten to hit Japan.

The order from Defence Minister Naoki Tanaka came at a meeting of Japan’s national security council. It followed instructions issued earlier in the week for the military to prepare to intercept the rocket if it enters Japanese territory.

The Unha-3 rocket is expected to fly past western Japan after its launch from North Korea’s west coast sometime between 12 and 16 April The plan has raised concerns that a failed launch, or a falling stage of the rocket, could endanger Japanese lives or property.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura urged people to stay calm, saying the military is preparing “just in case.”

“We don’t believe anything would fall over Japan’s territory. Please carry out your daily lives and business as usual,” he said.

A statement from the Defence Ministry said Japan would send destroyers equipped with Aegis missile defense systems to the Pacific and East China Sea and deploy mobile Patriot missile launchers to islands in Okinawa. An interceptor missile unit is also likely to be deployed in Tokyo, although the capital is far from the expected flight path.

North Korea has said the aim of the launch is to send a satellite into orbit. Japan, the United States and other countries claim it is also seeking to test the capabilities of its long-range missiles, in violation of international agreements.

Seoul has also warned it might shoot down any parts of the North Korean rocket heading for South Korean territory.

Japan mobilised its interceptor units and issued a similar warning to North Korea before a rocket launch in 2009, but did not follow through.

Interceptor missiles on the Japanese destroyers would serve as the first line of defence, and the land-based Patriot missiles would be a backup. Japan has successfully tested its interceptor missiles, but has never used them in a real-world situation.

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Associated Press

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