The United States and Japan are focusing more antimissile systems on North Korea as a response to Pyongyang's ratcheted-up threats of new missile launches.
U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel during a visit to Tokyo on Sunday announced that the U.S. Navy would field two additional Aegis-equipped warships to Japan no later than 2017. The ships will supplement the five anti-ballistic missile vessels already deployed to the East Asian country, the Associated Press reported. The Standard Missile 3 interceptors on the ships have the ability to counter short- and medium-range ballistic missiles.
"This deployment follows our October announcement to establish a second missile defense radar site in Kyoto prefecture, and my decision last year to increase ground-based interceptors in Alaska," the U.S. defense chief was quoted as saying in a Pentagon transcript."These steps will greatly enhance our ability to defend both Japan and the U.S. homeland from North Korean ballistic missile threats."
Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera has quietly ordered the country's military to fire on any launched North Korean ballistic missile that comes close to Japanese territory, an anonymous government insider told Reuters. The order went into force on Thursday and will remain in effect through April 25. An antimissile destroyer has already been deployed to the Sea of Japan, according to the insider.
The decision to issue the order followed Pyongyang's unexpected test-firing last month of a Rodong missile capable of striking all of Japan.
Meanwhile, a senior North Korean diplomat on Friday reiterated recent warnings that a fourth nuclear test could be in the works, Reuters separately reported.
"The D.P.R.K. made it very clear, we will carry out a new form of nuclear test," deputy North Korean Ambassador to the United Nations Ri Tong Il said during a press conference. "But I recommend you to wait and see what it is."
Elsewhere, the North Korean Academy of the National Defense Science in a Monday statement accused South Korea of carrying out a "grave provocation" by test-launching a new ballistic missile on March 23 that is designed to target the North's strategic assets, the Yonhap News Agency reported.