TOKYO: The Japan government is increasingly wary of North Korea’s missile technology in the wake of the country’s firing of ballistic missiles on Monday. North Korea simultaneously launched three ballistic missiles, which fell at approximately the same point within Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ).

The incident confirms that North Korea’s missile capabilities and launch technologies have improved.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga strongly criticised North Korea at a press conference on Monday.

“Firing missiles into the EEZ without any prior notice is extremely problematic from the perspective of, among other things, securing the safety of aircraft and ships,” he said.

On Monday, the Japanese government held a meeting of the National Security Council at the Prime Minister’s Office in which Suga and other officials confirmed a policy of gathering and analysing information about the missiles.

It was the first time since Aug 3 that North Korea fired ballistic missiles into Japan’s EEZ. In the previous launch, a Rodong mid-range ballistic missile flew about 1,000 kilometres and fell into the sea off Akita Prefecture. The maximum range of Rodong missiles is estimated to be 1,300 kilometres. The Rodong missile fired on Aug 3 travelled farther than any previous missile of the type.

This time, all three missiles flew about 1,000 kilometres. If fired in a different direction, missiles of this type would be capable of reaching most areas of western Japan.

The Japan government is on high alert, not only because fishing boats and other vessels working in the EEZ were endangered, but also because of North Korea’s unprecedented, provocative action of simultaneously firing three missiles that fell at approximately the same point.

It is highly likely that the launches were military drills in which two or more missiles were simultaneously fired toward the same target.

On Aug 24, North Korea fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile that flew about 500 kilometres. The launching of such missiles is difficult to detect in advance.

The recent series of missile launches have effectively demonstrated North Korea’s enhanced capability to launch a surprise attack.

North Korea’s repeated firings of missiles from mobile launch pads prompted the Japanese defence ministry to issue a standing order on Aug 8 for the Self-Defence Forces to destroy incoming missiles if necessary, enabling the SDF to intercept missiles.

The SDF has dispatched one Aegis destroyer carrying Standard Missile 3 (SM3) interceptor missiles to the Sea of Japan. On the ground, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC3) surface-to-air missile defence system units are deployed to intercept missiles in two stages.

However, a military expert said, “If two or more ballistic missiles are fired simultaneously, it is more difficult for a single Aegis destroyer to cope with them.”

Japan owns only four Aegis-equipped destroyers carrying interceptor missiles. The destroyers are also tasked with monitoring the Chinese military in the East China Sea.

More officials in the government are voicing the opinion that now is the time to seriously consider how to respond to simultaneous firings of two or more missiles.

Thus the defence ministry aims to speed up work to modify or build Aegis-equipped destroyers.

Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called for international networks to take action against North Korea at the Group of 20 summit held in Hangzhou, China, on Monday. According to sources accompanying the prime minister to the G-20 meeting, Abe quickly changed the wording of his speech in the wake of the missile launches.

“An unforgivable, provocative action was taken while all of us are gathered here,” Abe said. “The international community, including the United Nations Security Council, must respond with determination.”

—The Japan News

Published in Dawn, September 7th, 2016

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