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N Korea at crossroads

Japan explores defense options for emerging North Korean threats

Satellite fleets, base strikes would counter hypersonic and trajectory-shifting weapons

Japan's missile defenses consist of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 surface-to-air missiles, pictured here, and Aegis-equipped vessels at sea.   © Reuters

TOKYO -- Recent North Korean rocket tests have raised the possibility that Japan's current missile defenses may be rendered ineffective, forcing policymakers here to consider new options -- including a constellation of small tracking satellites and the ability to attack the missile launch itself in enemy territory.

North Korea test-fired a projectile toward the Sea of Japan on Sept. 28, later identifying it as the Hwasong-8 -- a hypersonic missile whose speed and complex trajectory would make it almost impossible for a missile shield to shoot down.

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