Patriot batteries mulled to protect west Japan

The Defense Ministry is considering deploying Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) interceptor batteries in western Japan to prepare for potential North Korean missile threats in the region, it has been learned.

The state-run Korean Central News Agency reported Thursday that North Korea is considering launching four intermediate-range ballistic missiles into waters near the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam.

Pyongyang has warned the missiles would fly over Shimane and Hiroshima prefectures in the Chugoku region and Kochi in Shikoku if the North follows through with the plan.

The Self-Defense Forces have no PAC-3 missile batteries covering western Japan. The government is considering deploying batteries to the regions because North Korean missiles and missile parts could fall on the areas during malfunctions, government sources said.

Japan’s has a two-stage missile defense shield. The first stage involves Standard Missile-3 (or SM-3) interceptors launched from Maritime Self-Defense Force ships. The second stage involves PAC-3 interceptors based on the ground.

In 2016, Japan deployed PAC-3 batteries to the islands of Miyako and Ishigaki in Okinawa Prefecture before North Korea launched what it claimed was a satellite.

On Thursday, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera told reporters he will consider deploying more PAC-3 batteries after examining various aspects of the North Korea situation.

The government has been alarmed by the escalating rhetoric of U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korea as the hermit state continues to provoke Washington, Tokyo and the United Nations with its steadily advancing nuclear weapons and missile programs.

Tokyo will discuss with Washington how best to deal with the crisis while strengthening surveillance activities, informed sources said.

“We are on full alert and well-prepared to respond to any contingency situations,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference Thursday.

“We hope to strengthen the deterrent power of the Japan-U.S. alliance and response capabilities,” he added, referring to the upcoming meeting of the allies’ foreign and defense ministers in Washington on Aug. 17.

North Korea continues to issue provocations despite a U.N. Security Council resolution adopted Saturday to strengthen sanctions against it for testing two intercontinental ballistic missiles last month.

“Trump would probably take military action if North Korea attacks Guam, but would probably not if North Korean missiles fall around the island,” a Japanese government source said.

If the situation worsens, Japan could be targeted by North Korea in retaliation. Tokyo therefore hopes that the Trump administration will not take any military action.

Still, Japan is finding it difficult to strongly oppose Washington, which is increasingly worried about North Korea’s ICBM advances, because Tokyo relies heavily on Washington for protection, pundits said.

At a Diet committee meeting Thursday, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera suggested that launching missiles toward areas near Guam may meet conditions for Japan to exercise its right to collective self-defense.

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