The Japan Air Self-Defense Force is deploying Patriot Advanced Capability-3 surface-to-air systems to several U.S. bases in Japan to test their ability to quickly respond to Pyongyang's missile threats, a U.S. Forces Japan statement said.
A convoy of trucks carrying PAC-3 components arrived at Yokota, headquarters of USFJ and the 5th Air Force, Tuesday morning. The planned deployment happened soon after North Korea test-fired a missile over Japanese territory, prompting alerts in a dozen prefectures before falling into the ocean east of Hokkaido. It was the latest in a string of missile tests this year, including one that appeared to simulate a nuclear attack on U.S. forces in Japan.
Reporters were brought onto the installation to observe Japanese troops setting up the equipment in a matter of minutes. RQ-4 Global Hawk drones, C-130J cargo planes and other military aircraft were parked nearby on the tarmac.
Lt. Gen. Hiroaki Maehara, head of Japan's Air Defense Command, told reporters the training helps Japan test its ability to maneuver and deploy its Patriot batteries and leads to deterrence.
"It is most important to keep up such efforts," he said. "[The JASDF] will continue [Patriot] deployment training across the country to develop the feelings of security and safety among Japanese citizens and to strengthen the alliance," he said.
Maehara said the Yokota training marked the first time Japan has deployed its system to a U.S. base. PAC-3s also trained Tuesday at Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni and are slated to visit Misawa Air Base on Sept. 7.
"We did not foresee North Korea launching a missile right before our … press conference," he said, adding that Pyongyang's missile didn't impact the training. Similar training has been conducted since June at Self-Defense Force bases from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south, Maehara added.
The one-day deployments allow for on-site assessments of firing locations and give Japanese troops a chance to test rapid deployment of their air-defense assets, U.S. officials said in a statement. "Bilateral engagements like this one demonstrate the enduring strength of the U.S.-Japan alliance and the determination of both our nations to address the security challenge posed by North Korea's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programs," Lt. Gen. Jerry Martinez, commander of U.S. Forces Japan, said in the USFJ statement.
"We welcome these training deployments and look forward to working with our Japanese partners to make them a success" he added.