The U.S. Strategic Command says it detected and tracked what it assessed was a medium- or intermediate-range ballistic missile test-fired by North Korea.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un warned in his New Year’s address that his country was ready to test its first intercontinental ballistic missile, which could threaten the U.S. mainland.
The missile was launched around 7:55 am (2255 GMT Saturday) from Banghyon air base in the western province of North Pyongan, and flew east towards the Sea of Japan (East Sea), the South’s defence ministry said.
Japan would retaliate against North Korea if Pyongyang launched a missile attack on the United States, Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani said. Nakatani said Sunday Japan would defend the U.S. because a North Korea missile attack would likely result in serious damage.
Nakatani’s remarks were expected to provoke a strong response from North Korea. They came as Washington and Tokyo have revised their defense guidelines to allow Japan to expand its role globally to help U.S. forces in military crises.
One of Pyongyang’s main lifelines and only ally among major powers, China, called on the DPRK to halt missile testing to
“defuse a looming crisis,” according to foreign minister Wang Yi in Beijing. Wang also recommended that South Korea and the US should end joint military drills. The US recently deployed a controversial missile defense system, the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, in Seongju county, South Korea.
“China has missiles that can hit Japan, so any complaints it may have are not likely to garner much sympathy in the international community,” the former defense minister noted. Regarding the switch in posture from ‘self-defense’ to considering the adoption of a ‘strike first’ policy, Onodera said that, “technology has advanced and the nature of the conflict has changed.”
Fellow Liberal Democratic Party members echoed Onodera’s argument. “It is time we acquired the capability,” said Hiroshi Imazu, chairman of the party’s security council. “Without a deterrence, North Korea will see us as weak,” he said. Some options include deploying Japan’s F-35s, a US-built fifth-generation fighter jet. Japan has ordered 28 joint strike fighters, but their delivery may not come soon enough. Imazu expressed uncertainty over whether the nation’s deterrence force would consist of ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, or F-35s.
For good measure, the US Marines have mobilized almost a dozen F-35Bs to a base in Japan some 40 km southwest of Hiroshima.
The growing North Korea threat has had leaders in Tokyo contemplating defense options, even if those discussions have not always been public. “We have already done the groundwork on how we could acquire a strike capability,” an anonymous official familiar with Japan’s defense planning told Reuters.
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