- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The United States and its allies are deploying missile defenses on land and sea so they can, if necessary, shoot down a multistage rocket that North Korea says it will launch within a few days.

Aviation and maritime authorities in Japan and the Philippines ordered all aircraft and boats to avoid the announced flight path of the rocket.

Japan and South Korea have said they will destroy the rocket or any falling parts of it if it threatens their territories. North Korea, which claims it is putting a weather satellite into orbit, says it will launch the rocket sometime from Thursday to Monday.

The U.S. Pacific Command also is prepared.

“Our deployed ships and other capabilities remain poised to respond to any tasking across the full spectrum of military operations,” Maj. Christian T. Devine, a Pacific Command spokesman, wrote in an email.

Patriot anti-missile batteries are set up in Okinawa, Japan, on Monday. The nation is preparing its reaction to a multistage rocket that North Korea plans to launch. (Kyodo News via Associated Press)
Patriot anti-missile batteries are set up in Okinawa, Japan, on Monday. The ... more >

He declined to comment on specific deployments, but the NHK news network in Japan broadcast images of the USS Shiloh steaming off southwestern Okinawa, under the rocket’s projected flight path over the East China Sea.

The Shiloh is equipped with the Aegis anti-ballistic missile system, a combination of long-range radar and guided-missile launcher destined to shoot down fast targets at high altitudes.

NHK also said ground-based Patriot anti-missile batteries are deployed in Okinawa and Tokyo and that three Japanese navy Aegis warships are at sea. Two are off the Okinawa islands and the third in the East Sea/Sea of Japan, far from the rocket’s projected flight path but between North Korea and Japan’s major population centers.

“Aegis’ ability to intercept at very high altitudes is predicated on it being more or less directly under the flight path,” said John E. Pike of GlobalSecurity.org, a Virgina-based think tank.

“Of course [U.S. and Japanese commanders] will have all their anti-missile assets trained on this launch. … Whether you want to shoot it down or not, it is a chance to test [the Aegis’ anti-ballistic missile technology].

“You get to watch it, track it, find out what it looks like in flight, find out if you have any problem tracking it.”

North Korean officials insisted again Tuesday that the launch is a peaceful effort to put a weather-and-research satellite into orbit. But U.S. and South Korean officials say the test will demonstrate rocket technology that could be used to reach parts of the United States with a ballistic missile.

North Korea says that the discarded stages of the rocket will fall harmlessly into the ocean, more than 100 miles from land off the western coast of South Korea for the first stage and north of the Philippines for the second.

If the rocket veers off course, it is “capable of self-destruction” from ground control, Ryu Kum-chol, of North Korea’s Committee for Space Technology, said in a rare briefing for foreign journalists in Pyongyang, the capital.

Some observers, commenting on an email list for satellite scholars, noted the trajectory that North Korea has disclosed is inconsistent with its claim that the launch is designed to put a satellite into so-called “sun-synchronous” orbit, where it passes over territories on the ground at the same time each day.

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