'We are on full alert and well-prepared to respond to any contingency situation,' says Japanese chief cabinet secretary
Japan is working on deploying PAC-3 anti-missile systems to the west of the country, should North Korean missiles violate Japanese airspace on the way to splashing down off the coast of Guam, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera said Friday.
Onodera did not elaborate whether he would actually order them to shoot down any of the missiles.
“We are on full alert and well-prepared to respond to any contingency situation,” Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a press conference.
Less than two days after U.S. President Donald Trump declared that North Korea faced “fire and fury” for its nuclear weapons tests, the North released a very detailed plan to “envelope” Guam with four intermediate range ballistic missiles.
Guam hosts about 5,000 U.S. service men at two large bases. One of them, Anderson Air Force Base, is the home of long-range bombers now regularly fly over South Korea whenever Pyongyang sets off a missile or weapons test.
The last time North Korea fired missiles directly over Japan was in 1998, in a failed attempt to put a satellite, splashing down in the north Pacific. Tokyo, at that time too, mobilized PAC-3 batteries, but did not attempt to shoot down which would have been illegal under Japan’s pacifistic constitution.
However, this changed in 2012, when the cabinet approved a new interpretation allowing for “collective defense” or coming to the aid of an ally which would include helping defend allied bases such as Guam.
The new defense minister Onodera, who took office in the recent cabinet reshuffle, is known to be a proponent of Japanese preemptive strikes against North Korean missile launch sites and acquiring the weapons, such as cruise missiles, to accomplish this.
Pyongyang did not signify when it might launch this plan to ''envelope'' Guam, but the U.S. and South Korea are planning to hold the Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercise between Aug 21 and 31. Pyongyang maintains that these large joint exercises are rehearsal for invasion and that may be the proper time to launch the missile.
The last time North Korea set of a volley of four rockets was in June. Aimed theoretically at American bases in Japan, they splashed down in the Sea of Japan. In July, the North launched two ballistic missiles that had the potential to fly as far as the United States.