TOKYO -- The sustained lull in North Korean missile launches this year prompted Japanese defense officials on Monday to start withdrawing ballistic missile interceptors deployed in 2017.
Japan's Ministry of Defense is removing Patriot Advanced Capability-3, or PAC-3, missile interceptors from five prefectures and returning the systems to Air Self-Defense Force bases. Officials believe the current situation no longer justifies the deployment of the surface-to-air missiles.
The ministry will also relax the alert level of a PAC-3 battery deployed at the ministry's Tokyo headquarters. A 24-hour alert in place for the sea-based Aegis missile defense system, deployed on warships, was eased in June.
Japan installed PAC-3 systems in four western prefectures in August of last year after North Korea threatened to fire missiles over the country into waters surrounding the U.S. territory of Guam. Hokkaido was added to the list in September after repeated North Korean launches sent missiles hurtling through airspace above that prefecture.
But tensions have since eased, punctuated by the June summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore. Still, Tokyo is sticking to its long-term strategy of rolling out the land-based Aegis Ashore missile defense system. Even if there is little immediate threat from Pyongyang, the rogue state still has hundreds of short- and medium-range missiles that can reach Japan.