Last week, Japanese Defense Minister Naoki Tanaka indicated to the Diet that the Japanese Self-Defense Forces (SDF) are preparing to deploy Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC) missiles to potentially intercept North Korea’s planned “satellite” launch. The statement came after Pyongyang had announced earlier this month that the launch will take place sometime between April 12-16, to mark the 100th anniversary of founder Kim Il-sung’s birth. The North Korean move over the expected test has been roundly condemned by Japan – as well as South Korea and the United States – as a violation of U.N. Security Council Resolution 1718.
This week, Tanaka followed up on his earlier pledge by telling the Japanese press that the SDF was preparing to take “destruction measures against (North Korea’s) ballistic missiles.” Cabinet approval for a potential strike was authorized on March 30. Tanaka rebuffed criticism that the deployment was merely rhetorical posturing, stating that the SDF “will expend all possible means to securely implement the necessary preparations in order to protect the lives and property of the people.”
The trajectory of the launch – or whether it will even go forward – remains unclear. Early signals and intelligence indicated that the missile’s path could cross Western Japan, but now reports are pointing to the possibility of the launch covering Japan’s southern islands, including Okinawa.
Tokyo seems to acknowledge the uncertainty, and is attempting to tamp down too much talk of a potential intercept. Japanese Cabinet Chief Secretary Osamu Fujimura, for his part, reassured reporters this week that the SDF measures were strictly defensive and stressed that the government “doesn’t believe anything will fall over Japan’s territory.”