Japan Prepares to Thwart North Korean Missile Strike

Japan deploys antimissile ships and Patriot batteries to defend against a possible attack.

Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell prepare to come alongside replenishment oiler USNS Pecos in the East China Sea, April 4
Sailors aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell prepare to come alongside replenishment oiler USNS Pecos in the East China Sea, April 4 (US Navy/Paul Kelly)

With American and South Korean intelligence predicting a missile launch by North Korea in the coming days, Japan announced a series of measures to protect its territory and calm nerves among its population. This comes as South Korea raised its military watch alert level to “vital threat” and its president vowed to respond to any provocations.

As the stream of bellicose statements from North Korea continued and reports indicated that it has prepared missiles on its east coast ready for launch, Japan’s defense minister Itsunori Onodera on Sunday directed the island nation’s military to be ready to shoot down a North Korean rocket should it threaten Japan. The navy sent anti-missile ships to the Sea of Japan and Patriot batteries were deployed in and around the capital Tokyo as well as elsewhere in the country.

Japan’s Aegis destroyers, now on stand by, are essentially the frontline defense and equipped with the world’s most modern seaborne anti-missile technology. The ships are capable of intercepting incoming missiles outside the atmosphere near the highest point in their trajectory.

The other part of Japan’s anti-missile defense consists of land based Patriot PAC-3 systems. On Tuesday, Onodera also ordered these units to be deployed at sites around the country.

The Patriots are capable of hitting a missile as it reenters the atmosphere and constitute the backup plan should the Aegis ships fail in the first phase.

Japan’s ballistic missile defense system has evolved over the last few years from only being able to detect and track incoming missiles to at present said to capable of intercepting them too. According to Japan’s Defense Ministry, the system is designed as a multitiered defense consisting of numerous high tech sensors and comprehensive command, control and battle management systems.

The United States have also deployed two ships in waters off the Korean Peninsula to assist in intercepting any North Korean missiles deemed threatening to the country or its allies.

The Japanese public is understandably unnerved over imminent missile launches from North Korea because it was only a few years ago that the communist country tested a missile which flew directly over Japanese territory before landing in the Pacific Ocean. The Japanese government has vowed to prevent that from happening again.

The North Koreans are reported to be ready to test the long range Musudan missile designed to travel in the range of 2,175 miles. Armed with this type of missile, the North Koreans would be able to hit all of Japan as well as American army bases in the region and the United States territory of Guam.

South Koreans seem to be taking the North’s belligerence in stride as they go about their daily routines. They have seen this type of rhetoric before.

However, this belies the real risk of miscalculation by the inexperienced North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un. One analyst compared Kim to a kid playing with matches sitting on top of a pile of dynamite.

Because Kim is at most thirty years old and only rose to power last year after his father died, many conclude that he is deliberately raising the threat level in order rattle nerves in the region and extract more aid from the outside world. There might also be domestic reasons for Kim’s bellicosity in that he wants to show the army he is willing to be tough on the West.

The fear is that North Korea makes a mistake amid all of its war rhetoric and sparks an incident that spirals out of control.

When Prime Minister Shinzō Abe came to power late last year, he vowed to protect Japan from any threats to its territory. In addition, the new South Korean president, Park Geun-hye, has also promised a “strong response” to any North Korean provocations. If all sides make good on their threats, Japan’s defense precautions are very prudent indeed.