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Japan boosts preparations for threat of North Korea's missiles

The helicopter destroyer JS Kaga at the Japan Maritime Self-Defense base in Yokosuka, Japan, Thursday, March 23, 2017.

TYLER HLAVAC/STARS AND STRIPES

By THE JAPAN NEWS/YOMIURI Published: May 16, 2017

The Japanese government became increasingly alert to the threat posed by North Korea's ballistic missile launch on Sunday as the missile flew on a lofted trajectory reaching an altitude of over 2,000 kilometers.

Missiles launched on a lofted trajectory climb to a higher apogee and fall faster than missiles on a standard trajectory, making it difficult to intercept with Japan's current missile defense posture. The government is stepping up its efforts to consider introducing new equipment, including interceptor missiles capable of countering missiles launched on a lofted trajectory.

"Introducing new interceptor missiles and other equipment will further improve our capability to intercept ballistic missiles, including attacks on a lofted trajectory," Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said Monday at the House of Councillors Committee on Audit, apparently referring to the planned introduction of the SM-3 Block 2A missile. Tokyo and Washington are jointly developing the new interceptor missile, aiming to complete its development within fiscal 2017.

Japan's existing missile defense posture is based on a two-stage system. First, Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor missiles launched from Aegis-equipped vessels intercept missiles in outer space at a maximum height of about 500 kilometers. If the interceptor fails to hit the target, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air guided missiles would intercept it at about a dozen kilometers above the ground.

Either of the interceptor systems is expected to counter ballistic missiles launched on a standard trajectory. The latest North Korean missile's "altitude of 2,000 kilometers was beyond our prior expectations, making it difficult to intercept," a senior Defense Ministry official said.

Meanwhile, the SM-3 Block 2A missile, which is currently being developed, is capable of intercepting missiles at a maximum altitude of over 1,000 kilometers. Its intercept range in terms of altitude will be double that of the existing SM-3.

"Our potential to intercept [missiles] will be boosted," a senior official of the Self-Defense Forces said.

In an effort to strengthen Japan's missile defense posture, the government is finalizing plans to introduce a land-based Aegis system - called Aegis Ashore - on top of Aegis-equipped vessels deployed at sea. Tokyo is aiming to decide whether to introduce the system by this summer.

The government plans to continue beefing up coordination with Washington and Seoul in dealing with Pyongyang. Inada agreed Monday to keep up close trilateral coordination in telephone talks with South Korean Defense Minister Han Min Koo.

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