Japan's missile defence system may find it difficult to intercept latest North Korean missile: Defence Ministry

An undated photo released on May 15, 2017 by North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) showing the test-firing of a new ground-to-ground medium long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 on May 14, 2017.
An undated photo released on May 15, 2017 by North Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) showing the test-firing of a new ground-to-ground medium long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 on May 14, 2017. PHOTO: EPA/KCNA

TOKYO (THE JAPAN NEWS/ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - The Japanese government became increasingly alert to the threat posed by North Korea's ballistic missile launch on Sunday (May 14) as the missile flew on a lofted trajectory reaching an altitude of over 2,000 kilometres.

Missiles launched on a lofted trajectory climb to a higher apogee and fall faster than missiles on a standard trajectory, making them difficult to intercept with Japan's current missile defences.

The government is stepping up its efforts to consider introducing new equipment, including interceptor missiles capable of countering missiles launched on a lofted trajectory.

"Introducing new interceptor missiles and other equipment will further improve our capability to intercept ballistic missiles, including attacks on a lofted trajectory," Defence Minister Tomomi Inada said on Monday (May 14) at the House of Councillors Committee on Audit, apparently referring to the planned introduction of the SM-3 Block 2A missile.

Tokyo and Washington are jointly developing the new interceptor missile, aiming to complete its development within fiscal 2017.

Japan's existing missile defence posture is based on a two-stage system. First, Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) interceptor missiles launched from Aegis-equipped vessels intercept missiles in outer space at a maximum height of about 500 kilometres.

If the interceptor fails to hit the target, Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air guided missiles would intercept it at about a dozen kilometres above the ground.

Either of the interceptor systems is expected to counter ballistic missiles launched on a standard trajectory.

The latest North Korean missile's "altitude of 2,000 kilometres was beyond our prior expectations, making it difficult to intercept," a senior Defence Ministry official said.

Meanwhile, the SM-3 Block 2A missile, which is currently being developed, is capable of intercepting missiles at a maximum altitude of over 1,000 kilometres.

Its intercept range in terms of altitude will be double that of the existing SM-3.

"Our potential to intercept (missiles) will be boosted," a senior official of the Self-Defence Forces said.

In an effort to strengthen Japan's missile defence posture, the government is finalising plans to introduce a land-based Aegis system - called Aegis Ashore - on top of Aegis-equipped vessels deployed at sea.

Tokyo is aiming to decide whether to introduce the system by this summer.

The government plans to continue beefing up coordination with Washington and Seoul in dealing with Pyongyang. Ms Inada agreed on Monday to keep up close trilateral coordination in telephone talks with South Korean Defence Minister Han Min Koo.