April 10, 2013 12:23
The U.S. and Japan are preparing to shoot down any medium-range missile North Korea is likely to launch.
The Musudan missiles being readied on the east coast have a range of 3,000 to 4,000 km and could theoretically reach the U.S. territory of Guam. That means they would have to fly over Japan on their trajectory, prompting Tokyo to get ready to shoot them down.
The SM-3 missiles aboard two Japanese Aegis-class ships dispatched to the East Sea can shoot down a projectile from 150 to 500 km away. "The SM-3s are capable of intercepting the Musudan before it reaches its maximum altitude of 300 to 400 km," said a military source here.
But other experts believe that if a missile flies over Japan, it would fly so high above the island country's air space of some 100 km as to give Tokyo little reason to intercept it.
It is at any rate uncertain whether the SM-3 would succeed in intercepting the Musudan. Since 2001, the U.S. Defense Department conducted 30 tests gauging the SM-3's intercept capability and succeeded only 24 times, an 80-percent success rate. But experts say the SM-3 needs further improvements since, for instance, it is not yet perfectly able to tell genuine missiles from decoys.
If North Korea aims missiles at Guam, the U.S. may also shoot them down. Washington has said it would deploy missile defense systems on Guam within weeks that could intercept missiles at a height of 150 km, but they are not in place yet. Instead, it may also have to rely on SM-3 missiles on Aegis ships.
"If North Korea fires a missile that lands close to Guam, this could be construed as an act of war, so we do not think that's a likely scenario," said a government source here.
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