Capt. Mineo Hirata and the 280 sailors on board the Japanese navy destroyer JS Kongo will attempt to shoot a ballistic missile out of space on Monday - a first for Tokyo or any US ally.
The joint Japan-US test off Hawaii comes almost 10 years after North Korea launched a long-range missile that flew over Japanese territory and splashed into the Pacific Ocean, spurring an alarmed Tokyo to invest billions in missile defense.
"There are countries near us that possess ballistic missiles," Hirata told reporters on a Pearl Harbor pier before the Kongo headed out to sea. "This (the test) is very important for the defense of our nation, for the protection of our people and property."
Experts say the test of the Standard Missile-3 interceptor will likely strengthen the US-Japan defense alliance. But it may also deepen concerns in Beijing that Tokyo could use the technology to help the US defend Taiwan if conflict erupted across the straits.
The Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, run by the US Navy, will fire the target missile into the sky. The USS Lake Erie, a Pearl Harbor-based guided missile cruiser, will track the missile target and feed information on it to a command center. The medium-range test target is expected to resemble Pyongyang's Rodong missiles, which are capable of flying about 1,000 kilometers - or far enough to put Tokyo and much of Japan within their range.
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