| GEO World|
| Japan deploys ballistic missile shield|
| Updated at: 1636 PST, Sunday, March 29, 2009|
TOKYO: Japan's costly ballistic missile shield, which has never been used in a real-world situation, could soon have its first test.
As tensions mount over North Korea's plan to launch a newly developed satellite-bearing long-range missile, Japan's Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada on Friday ordered the Japan Self-Defense Force (SDF) to prepare to destroy any ballistic missile fired from North Korea if it looks like hitting the country.
North Korea has said that it is preparing to launch a rocket carrying a communications satellite into orbit any time between April 4 and April 8 for the peaceful use of space, highly possibly disguising a Taepodong-2 long-range missile. These missiles can also carry nuclear warheads.
Following a National Security Council meeting with Prime Minister Taro Aso and other cabinet members, Hamada ordered the SDF to activate Japan's missile defense system and intercept the missile or any debris from it.
The destruction order is based on paragraph 3 of article 82-2 of the SDF Law, which stipulates that even though the possibility of a missile or rocket falling onto Japan is unclear, the SDF can take preventative action. The order is Japan's first of its kind after it revised its SDF Law in 2005 and legalized the possible shooting down of ballistic missiles and rockets should it become likely that those would hit Japan.
"Whether (it is) a satellite or a missile test, it's very unpleasant that it will fly over Japan and it should never have to be undergone," Hamada told reporters in a televised news conference broadcast nationally after the National Security Council meeting. "Whatever North Korea's intentions are, (I) hope it to stop the launch, and it's natural for the (Japanese) government to destruct it in case" its planned launch fails, Hamada said.
Many believe that under the pretext of a satellite launch, North Korea is poised to test-fire a long-range ballistic missile to boost national prestige ahead of the Supreme People's Assembly starting on April 9. This date is also the 16th anniversary of Dear Leader Kim Jong-il's rise to chairman of the National Defense Commission of North Korea. Pyongyang plans the launch time from 11am to 4pm Tokyo time during the declared period.
North Korea has notified the International Maritime Organization of its pending satellite launch, apparently to obtain international legitimacy. The North Koreans maintain that as this is a satellite launch, they would view its shooting down as an act of war.