Photo/IllutrationJapanese and U.S. Aegis-equipped destroyers dock at the U.S. Navy’s Yokosuka base to take part in a missile defense exercise in 2014. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

Japan has lowered the high alert level for its Self-Defense Forces against a possible North Korean missile launch following the easing of tensions between Washington and Pyongyang and the halt of U.S.-South Korea war games.

The decision to stand down from June 29 means that the Maritime SDF’s Aegis destroyers will be given 24-hour notice to be ready to intercept North Korean missiles, rather than remain on alert around the clock in the Sea of Japan, government sources said.

The prime minister’s office approved lowering the alert level when it was proposed.

U.S. President Donald Trump announced a suspension of U.S. forces’ joint military exercises with South Korean forces following his historic June 12 summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Singapore.

After the summit, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said, “Japan is clearly not in a situation in which North Korea’s missiles may fly toward the country at any time.”

Japan began deploying up to two MSDF Aegis-equipped vessels with SM-3 interceptor missiles in the Sea of Japan to be on alert to destroy any incoming missiles by issuing the missile destroy order in August 2016 based on the SDF Law.

The deployment of Aegis destroyers was prompted by Pyongyang’s missile test launches earlier the same year.

After August 2017, three units in charge of PAC-3 surface-to-air missiles were deployed at Ground SDF camps in Hokkaido, as well as in the Chugoku and Shikoku regions, on top of the deployment of Aegis vessels.

The additional step was taken after Pyongyang warned that it would launch missiles into waters in the vicinity of the U.S. territory of Guam and North Korean missiles flew over southern Hokkaido.

Some government officials called for caution against easing the alert level as North Korea has not dismantled its short- and intermediate-range missiles, which can target Japan, and when a road map to talks between Tokyo and Pyongyang is unclear.

But the government decided that SDF members at Aegis vessels and PAC-3 missile units have been stretched too thin since the alert has been in place for a prolonged period, according to the sources.

The SDF will now be prepared to intercept North Korean missiles by entering waters near where the projectiles are expected to land within 24 hours after the government detects a “possible sign of a missile launch,” based on data from U.S. and Japanese intelligence gathering satellites.

The PAC-3 missiles launchers and the control system remain deployed at GSDF bases.

But Air SDF members operating them will not need to remain in a state of constant readiness and are allowed to become ready within 24 hours.

According to sources in the Defense Ministry, the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, which covers Japan and the Korean Peninsula, has also eased the alert level.