By Hyunsu Yim and Nobuhiro Kubo
TOKYO/SEOUL, May 29 (Reuters) – Japan put its ballistic missile defences on alert on Monday, vowing to shoot down any projectile that threatened its territory after North Korea notified it of a satellite launch between May 31 and June 11.
The nuclear-armed North says it has completed its first military spy satellite and leader Kim Jong Un has approved final preparations for the launch.
It would be the North’s latest step in a series of missile launches and weapons tests in recent months, including a new, solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile.
Japan expects North Korea to fire the rocket carrying its satellite over the southwest island chain as it did in 2016, a defence ministry spokesperson said.
Analysts say the new satellite is part of a surveillance technology programme that includes drones, aimed at improving the ability to strike targets in wartime.
“We will take destructive measures against ballistic and other missiles that are confirmed to land in our territory,” Japan’s defence ministry said in a statement.
Japan would use its Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) or Patriot Missile PAC-3 to destroy a North Korean missile, it added.
Any North Korean missile launch would be a serious violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions condemning its nuclear and missile activity, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.
“We strongly urge North Korea to refrain from launching,” his office said on Twitter, adding that it would co-operate with its U.S. ally, South Korea and other countries, and do all it could to collect and analyse information from any launch.
South Korea joined Japan in urging the reclusive North to scrap its planned satellite launch.
“If North Korea presses ahead, it will pay the price and suffer,” a spokesperson of the South’s foreign ministry said in a statement that urged the North to withdraw its “illegal” launch plan.
Kim Gunn, the South’s special envoy for peace and security affairs on the peninsula held a three-way telephone call with his counterparts from Japan and the United States, the ministry added.
They agreed to work together closely in leading a united response by the international community to Pyongyang’s planned satellite launch, it said.
North Korea has tried several times to launch “earth observation” satellites, of which two appeared to have been successfully placed in orbit, the latest in 2016.
In May, its leader, Kim, inspected a military satellite facility, the KCNA state news agency said.
In April, Japan sent to the East China Sea a destroyer carrying the SM-3 interceptors that can hit targets in space, and sent ground-based PAC-3 missiles, designed to strike warheads closer to the ground, to the Okinawan islands.
“The government recognises that there is a possibility that the satellite may pass through our country’s territory,” Hirokazu Matsuno, the chief cabinet secretary, told a regular briefing after the North informed the Japanese coast guard of the plan.
North Korean state media have criticised plans by its rivals, Japan, South Korea and the United States, to share real-time data on its missile launches, characterising the three as discussing “sinister measures” to tighten military co-operation.
Photo: Japan Ground Self-Defense Force