Japan's military on alert to intercept N. Korean missiles – report

A Japan Self-Defense Forces soldier guards near a unit of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missiles at the Defense Ministry in Tokyo, Japan. © Toru Hanai
Japan’s defense minister has ordered the nation's military to be on constant alert, ready to intercept North Korean ballistic missiles, according to local media. One such missile splashed inside Japan's exclusive economic one for the first time last week.

Japan’s first ever female defense minister, Tomomi Inada, has ordered the country's military to be ready to take down any North Korean missiles dangerously approaching national airspace, NHK broadcaster reported. When asked to elaborate on the command by AFP, a Defense Ministry spokesperson declined to do so.

Inada, a politician with nationalist views, was picked by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and appointed defense minister last Wednesday – the very same day that Pyongyang fired two ballistic missiles. The launch came as a surprise to the Japanese, as North Korea used mobile launching platforms to fire the two Rodong missiles, one of which reportedly exploded mid-air.

The other missile made it into Japan's 250-kilometer exclusive economic zone (EEZ), west of the Oga Peninsula in Akita Province. The launch reportedly went undetected by Japan's military.

Tokyo described the test launch as a “grave threat” and “an outrageous act that cannot be tolerated.” According to local press, Japan has been eyeing the possibility of making the alert mode indefinite, with top readiness to be renewed every three months if required.

The day after the launch took place, Inada said that “in order to improve Japan's defense system, we will strengthen our ability to promptly, simultaneously, and continuously respond to threats.”

“We will do our best to increase next year's budget for the project,” the minister told Sankei newspaper.

Tokyo possesses two major missile defense components, both of which are US-made. Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force also has guided Aegis missile destroyers equipped with SM-3 missile complexes. The Japanese capital is guarded by Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile interceptors operated by Japan's Air Self-Defense Force.

Both systems have limited capability of intercepting mid-range ballistic and cruise missiles on the terminal stage of their flight.

Tokyo has been in talks with Washington over the deployment of advanced THAAD anti-missile systems on its territory – a worrying move for Beijing, which is against the deployment of advanced US systems in the region.

The North Korean missile test also concerned Seoul, which recently decided to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system to protect the South Korean capital.

In a statement issued last week, China's Foreign Ministry said that South Korea should “think twice” about the THAAD deployment, taking into consideration the good ties between Beijing and Seoul.

Earlier this summer, Japan, South Korea, and the United States jointly took part in missile defense drills for the first time, as part of the 2016 Rim of the Pacific naval exercise.