The Japanese defense minister has ordered his nation’s forces to shoot down a North Korean rocket if—and this is the big if—it threatens Japanese territory:

Japan’s defence minister said Friday he had issued an order to shoot down a North Korean rocket if it threatens the nation’s territory, a planned launch that has raised global alarm bells.
“I issued a destroy order,” Defence Minister Naoki Tanaka told reporters in Tokyo, saying he had received the green light to shoot it down.

What is more interesting is a story by the Dong-A Ilbo’s military affairs guy that while both Japan and South Korea have declared they would intercept the rocket if it were to threaten their territory, the latter would have a very difficult time doing so.

Japan’s Aegis warships carry the RIM-161 Standard Missile 3, or the SM-3, which the US Navy used to take out an old US spy satellite just before reentry in 2008.

Korea’s Aegis ships, however, carry just the SM-2, which is great for taking out aircraft and cruise missiles, but insufficient for taking out ballistic missiles or missile fragments flying several times the speed of sound due to its lack of speed and range.

As the Dong-A notes, Korea’s Aegis warships have better “eyes” (a.k.a. radar) than their American and Japanese counterparts, but because they don’t have the “fist” (a.k.a. missiles) to hit ballistic missiles, they must rely on other countries’ ships. For example, during a Korea-US ballistic missile interception exercise in the waters off Hawaii in 2010, Korea’s Sejong the Great tracked the missile and provided the information, but the actual interception was done with an SM-3 fired from an US Navy Aegis ship.

The same goes for Korea’s ground-based PAC-2 missiles and Japan’s spiffy new PAC-3s. The PAC-3s are just much better at taking out balistic missiles. And this, the Dong-A Ilbo notes, makes Korea’s stated plan to shoot down the missile ring hollow.

The Japanese, on the other hand, are expressing confidence in their missile defense and using the North Korean rocket launch as an opportunity to upgrade their alliance with the United States. For example, Japan has just set up a joint operations coordination center at Yokota to coordinate activities between the US Fifth Air Force and Japan’s ASDF. According to the Dong-A, this place—with about 800 personnel from both the USAF and ASDF—is a joint US-Japan MD command center.

The Dong-A concluded by saying North Korea’s rocket provocation appeared to be resulting in the acceleration of US-Japan military coordination and the expansions of the Japanese SDF’s role in the Asia-Pacific region. Now was the time to consider carefully the implication this would have on the security of the Korean Peninsula.

The Chosun Ilbo, meanwhile, reported the same concerns, and added that Korea is talking with the United States in hopes of getting support from the US 7th Fleet and/or USFK’s own PAC-3s at Osan, Gunsan and Waegwan.