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Japan deploys destroyers and missile batteries as military vows to shoot down any rockets launched from North Korea

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UPDATED:

20:26 GMT, 8 December 2012

The Japanese military is poised to shoot down any missile from North Korea should it threaten to fall on Japanese territory, as Pyongyang prepares for its controversial launch on Monday.

The news comes as new satellite images
indicate that snow may have slowed launch
preparations after South Korean media reports
this week quoted unnamed officials in Seoul as saying North Korea had
mounted all three stages of the Unha rocket on the launch pad by
Wednesday.

Japan has deployed three destroyers in the Sea of Japan, joining several US warships that are already monitoring the rocket launch. The country has also deployed missile batteries in Toyko, Okinawa and along the coast facing North Korea.

Launching

Launching: This satellite image taken by GeoEye shows the Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Tongchang-ri, North Korea. IT

Launching

Shooting down: Japan's Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto ordered missile units to intercept a rocket expected to be launched by North Korea

The Japanese government issued the order
after a meeting of their security council was informed that North Korea
has begun filling a fuel tank alongside the launch pad at the Sohae
Satellite Launching Station.

Snow may have prevented Pyongyang from launching its rocket earlier than next Monday, according to GeoEye satellite images from Tuesday that were
scrutinized by analysts for the websites 38 North and North Korea Tech.

The
analysis and images provide an unusually detailed public look at North
Korea's cloaked preparations for a launch that the United Nations,
Washington, Seoul and others say is a cover for a test of technology for
a missile that could be used to target the United States.

The
launch preparations have been magnified as an issue because of their
timing: Both Japan and South Korea hold elections this month, and
President Obama will be inaugurated for his second term in office
in January.

North Korea, for its part, says
it has a right to pursue a peaceful space program and will launch a
satellite into orbit sometime between Monday and December 22.

That launch
window comes as North Korea marks the December 17 death of leader Kim Jong
Un's father, Kim Jong Il.

North Korea is also celebrating the centennial
of the birth of Kim Jong Un's grandfather, national founder Kim Il
Sung.

Images from December1 showed no rocket at
the launch pad, but by Tuesday North Koreans were seen working under a
dark canvas, according to the analysis by 38 North, the website for the
U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International
Studies, and the North Korea Tech website, which collaborated with 38
North on the report.

The analysis contradicts
South Korean media reports that the rocket stages were set up by
Wednesday.

Launch

Leader: Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda steps up to speak during his inspection of ground-based Patriot Advanced Capability-3 interceptors

Since the launch pad was empty December 1, and it had taken North
Korea four days to erect a similar rocket before a failed launch
attempt in April, it should have taken longer for North Korea to prepare
the rocket, the websites said.

Snowfall
earlier this week also may have temporarily stopped work at the site,
according to the analysis written by Nick Hansen, a retired expert in
imagery technology with more than 40 years of national intelligence
experience.

North Korea has a long history of
developing ballistic missiles, but in four attempts since 1998 it has
not successfully completed the launch of a three-stage rocket.

It has
also conducted two nuclear tests, intensifying worry over how its rocket
technology could be used in the future, particularly if it masters
attaching a nuclear warhead to a missile.

A
senior South Korean government official told foreign reporters in Seoul
on Friday that North Korea has been making technical preparations for a
nuclear test and could theoretically conduct one in a short period of
time, but that it isn't clear when or if they will test.

The official
spoke on condition of anonymity, citing government rules.

Friday's analysis of the satellite images said North Korea can still be ready for liftoff Monday.

Based
on its preparations for the April launch, which broke apart shortly
after the rocket was fired, Pyongyang has to finish stacking its rocket
stages only two to three days ahead of time – meaning workers could
finish by Saturday and still be ready for a launch on Monday, the
analysis said.

Launch

Ready: Japan deployed the PAC-3 system on the ministry compound in the middle of Tokyo to prepare for North Korea's planned launch of a long-range rocket

Launch

Able: Noda looks over the grounds of the Patriot Advanced Capability-3 intercept

North Korea may have chosen a
12-day launch period, which is more than twice as long as the April
period, because it was worried about possible weather complications, the
analysis said.

'Pyongyang's rocket scientists
can't be happy about the increased technical risks of a wintertime
test, but certainly appear to have taken every precaution necessary in
order to launch the rocket on time,' said Joel Wit, a former U.S. State
Department official and editor of 38 North.

A
rocket can be launched during snowfall, but lightning, strong wind and
freezing temperatures could stall a liftoff, said Lee Chang-jin, an
aerospace professor at Seoul's Konkuk University.

North
Korea's launch plan is meant to show the world its capability to build
missiles, U.S. Pacific forces commander Adm. Samuel Locklear said
Thursday. The United States has moved extra ships with ballistic missile
defense capabilities toward the region, officials said.

The
launch, if successful, could prove that North Korea is capable of
targeting the mainland United States with a missile. State Department
spokesman Mark Toner said Friday in a briefing that the planned launch
is a threat that Washington takes 'very seriously.'

Choson
Sinbo, a North Korean mouthpiece published in Japan, said that the
Unha-3 rocket is only the first part of a five-year development space
program that began this year and will lead to the production of 'bigger
rockets.'

Launch

Watched: Satellite images taken by GeoEye show the Sohae launching station in Tongchang-ri, North Korea

Two South Korean destroyers will be
deployed in the Yellow Sea in the coming days to track the North Korean
rocket, defense officials in Seoul said Friday.

They spoke on condition
of anonymity because ministry rules bar them from releasing information
about defense movements over the phone.

The
U.S., Japan and South Korea say they'll seek U.N. Security Council
action if the launch goes ahead in defiance of existing resolutions.

The
council condemned April's launch and ordered seizure of assets of three
North Korean state companies linked to financing, exporting and
procuring weapons and missile technology.

On
Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda visited a Tokyo military
facility to inspect Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missile interceptors
being readied to intercept a North Korean rocket if it falls on Japanese
territory.