As North Korea prepares for an expected rocket launch next month, the U.S. Navy says it is moving to the Sea of Japan ships capable of shooting down ballistic missiles.
The ships, with powerful Aegis radar that can track ballistic missile launches, are on regularly planned deployments but are “prepared to track a launch or more, if afforded,” according to a U.S. Navy official who could not be named because of the sensitivity of the information. The United States generally has a number of Aegis-capable ships in the Sea of Japan because of the threat by North Korea to launch missiles. The ships monitor the region and are designed to track and if need be shoot down ballistic missiles. North Korea says it will launch a commercial satellite on top of a rocket sometime between April 4 and April 8. But Western governments fear the North Koreans will put a long-range missile on top of the rocket. If North Korea launches, the Obama administration may have has little as five minutes to decide whether it is a threat and, if necessary, try to shoot it down.
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The USS Hopper, a destroyer with the Aegis radar system aboard was scheduled for a port call in Japan in coming days. But the port call was canceled and the ship will remain in the Sea of Japan ahead of the launch, the official said. Two other U.S. Navy Aegis-capable destroyers, the USS Chaffee and USS McCain, are leaving the port in Sasebo, Japan, and are heading to South Korea for a ceremony in the coming days, according to the U.S. Navy official with direct knowledge of the operations. The U.S. Navy just wrapped up military exercises with the South Korean military that brought a number of U.S. ships into the region.