TOKYO (AP) – Japan’s defense minister Friday ordered missile units to intercept a long-range rocket expected to be launched by North Korea if the rocket or its fragments threaten to hit Japan.
The Unha-3 rocket is expected to fly past western Japan after its launch from North Korea’s west coast sometime between April 12 and 16. The plan has raised concerns that a failed launch, or a falling stage of the rocket, could endanger Japanese lives or property.
Friday’s order from Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka came at a meeting of Japan’s national security council and followed earlier instructions for the military to prepare to intercept the rocket if it enters Japanese territory.
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 Defense 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 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 launch will send a satellite into orbit to study its crops and natural resources. Japan, the United States and other countries claim the launch is a cover for testing 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 mobilized its interceptor units but did not follow through when North Korea launched a rocket in 2009.
Interceptor missiles on the Japanese destroyers would be the first line of defense, 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.