Japan prepares missile defense ahead of North Korea launch

A new satellite image of a North Korean launch pad reveals a new rail extension but little on-site activity ahead of a controversial rocket launch planned for April.

Story highlights

  • North Korea's announcement of a planned satellite launch has provoked alarm
  • Other countries say it is a way of testing missile technology
  • The Japanese defense minister orders the preparation of missile defenses

The Japanese defense minister said Friday that he had ordered the country's military to prepare a missile defense system ahead of a planned rocket launch by North Korea next month.

North Korea said last week that it is planning to carry out a rocket-powered satellite launch between April 12 and 16, alarming countries around the region.

South Korea has said it considers the satellite launch an attempt to develop a nuclear-armed missile, while the United States has warned the move would jeopardize a food-aid agreement reached with Pyongyang in early March.

Naoki Tanaka, the Japanese defense minister, said at a news conference Friday that he had requested that officials get ready for the deployment of anti-missile PAC3 and Eagis ships ahead of the launch.

The Japanese government is also considering deploying a PAC3 missile defense system in Okinawa. Tanaka said he would visit Okinawa soon in preparation for such a move.

Tanaka had said Monday that he would consider ordering the destruction of the projectile if it presented a risk to Japan.

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North Korea says it has a right to a peaceful space program and has invited international space experts and journalists to witness the launch.

In a recent notice to the International Maritime Organization regarding the "launch of an earth observation satellite," the North Korean government provided notice of where the anticipated drop zones would be for the two-stage rocket.

The notice was signed by North Korea's director general of its maritime administration, Ko Nung Du, and advised the launch would take place between 7 a.m. and noon, local time, on one of the expected days.

The rocket's path will go over "the South Korean islands of Baegryeong-do, Daecheong-do and Socheong-do, and then across open water until it passes between Japan's Miyako and Ishigaki islands before heading further south," according to the North Korea Tech blog which first obtained the North Korea documents and has plotted the coordinates.

The expected drop zones of the two-stage rocket are off the western coast of South Korea and to the east of Luzon Island in the Philippines, according to the blog.