Japan Friday ordered its military to intercept any North Korean rocket or its debris that falls towards the Japanese territory even as the U.S. began moving Navy ships into position to track the launch.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda announced the shoot-down order Friday following a Security Council meeting attended by cabinet officials, including Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto.
"We will spare no effort in making preparations to deal with any launch in order to protect the Japanese people's assets and lives," Noda said as he toured two Patriot missile firing units deployed on the grounds of Japan's defense ministry in central Tokyo, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
The report said Tokyo was more likely to use the land-based Patriots rather than the sea-based missile defenses, if the need arose, to avoid provoking Pyongyang.
"We do not expect any debris [from a North Korean rocket] under normal circumstances," chief cabinet spokesman Osamu Fujimura was quoted as saying by news agencies Friday.
North Korea plans to launch its rocket between Dec. 10 and 22, saying it is intended to put a satellite into space.
However, other nations, including the U.S., say the launch constitutes a test of a long-range missile technology that is banned under the U.N. resolutions and suspect that the mission is a cover for testing technology for intercontinental ballistic missiles that could eventually be used to carry the nuclear weapons.
Pyongyang’s attempt to launch Unha-3 rocket in April, as part of a celebration to mark the 100th birthday of the nation’s founder Kim Il-Sung, failed after only about 100 seconds of powered flight.
Adm. Samuel J. Locklear III, the commander of U.S. military forces in the Pacific region, said Thursday that warships equipped with advanced radar and other ballistic-missile defense systems were being relocated to monitor the launch, the New York Times reported.
During a Pentagon news conference, he said Pyongyang’s launch operations would be watched “very closely” to determine “what kind is it? What is it about? Where does it go? Who does it threaten?”
Citing anonymous sources, South Korea's Yonhap news agency reported that North Korea was filling up a fuel tank at the Dongchang-ri launch site in its northwestesten region, as it prepared to inject fuel into a long-range rocket.
The report said Pyongyang was expected to set a launch date depending on weather, considering severe conditions in the northern region in winter.
Japanese media speculated that leader Kim Jong-un may fire off the rocket on the morning of Dec. 17, the first anniversary of the death of his father Kim Jong-il, to pay tribute. The anniversary comes just two days before the South Koreans vote to elect a new president.