TOKYO, June 18, 2009 -- North Korea may be preparing to launch a long-range ballistic missile, possibly in the direction of Hawaii, a Japanese newspaper said Thursday, citing an analysis by the Japanese Defense Ministry.
The conclusion was reached after analyzing North Korea's recent activities and looking at intelligence gathered by U.S reconnaissance satellites, according to the The Yomiuri Shinbun, one of Japan's major dailies.
Most analysts, however, doubt that a North Korean missile could reach Hawaii, roughly 4,500 miles from the Korean Peninsula and just out of reach of even an upgraded Taepodong-2, which has an estimated range of 4,038 miles, the paper reported.
The paper said the Japanese ministry is now studying the possibility of deploying Aegis-equipped destroyers with surface-to-air missiles, which could intercept a North Korean missile, sources told the paper.
The Japanese government has already deployed PAC3 anti-missile systems at five locations in northern Japan and a few more in metropolitan Tokyo after North Korea test-fired a long-range missile on April 5. Some areas in northern Japan were under that missile's trajectory and the country was ready to shoot down any debris headed for Japanese territory. North Korea insisted they were merely launching a "communication satellite," which Western military analysts disputed.
The newspaper said the launch could take place from North Korea's Tongchang-ri facility, located in the northwest of the country in early July, possibly between July 4 and July 8.
Two significant dates fall into that time frame – July 4 is Independence Day in the U.S. and July 8 is the anniversary of the 1994 death of North Korea's founding leader, Kim Il Sung, the father of the current leader, Kim Jong Il. North Korea test-fired long-range missile Taepodong-2 on July 4 (July 5 local time), 2006. Its flight lasted less than one minute.
The Yomiuri listed three possible launch areas and paths mentioned by the ministry – one toward Hawaii, one toward Japan's southernmost island of Okinawa and one toward Guam. It assumes that the North's latest missile is as good as or even superior to the long-range missile used in April, which may be a two- or three-stage type.
Japan: Cannot "Rule Out Possibility" of North Korea Launch
The press division of the Japanese defense ministry declined to comment on the report. A press officer told ABC News that the ministry has no intention of revealing the content of its analysis on defense matters, including military activities in North Korea.
Vice Minister of Defense Kohei Masuda told Japanese reporters Thursday that the Japanese government cannot "rule out a possibility of North Korea firing another ballistic missile." He added that the ministry has been and will be monitoring the situation but that he has nothing to say about the speculated launch mentioned in the Yomiuri article.
Masuda is expected to meet his South Korean counterpart in Seoul early next week as part of the two countries' Defense Exchange program. Although this event had been scheduled before the speculation about another possible missile launch by Pyongyang, Masuda told reporters he expects North Korea will come up in discussions.