updated 6/28/2006 11:43:40 PM ET 2006-06-29T03:43:40

Japan has ordered a destroyer with advanced radar to return early from multinational war games in the Pacific Ocean over concerns about a possible North Korean missile launch, a news report said Thursday.

The destroyer is being recalled from exercises with ships from the U.S. and other allies in waters off Hawaii, amid concerns that North Korea may soon test-fire a long-range Taepodong-2 missile, Kyodo News agency said in a Washington-datelined story.

The destroyer Kirishima is equipped with the Aegis radar system, which can track enemy missiles and guide outgoing weapons.

The Kyodo report cited unidentified Japanese and U.S. government officials. Japanese Defense Agency officials were not immediately available to comment on the report.

North Korea shocked Japan in 1998 when it showed that it could hit Tokyo by launching a missile that flew over northern Japan and into the Pacific Ocean. The missile test prompted Japan to accelerate work with Washington on a joint missile defense system.

Intelligence reports in recent weeks have said that North Korean may be fueling a Taepodong-2 missile at a launch pad on its northeastern coast. A U.S. government estimate puts the range of the Taepodong-2 missile at up to 7,500 miles, making it capable of reaching the United States.

Coordinating intelligence with U.S.
Japanese Defense Minister Fukushiro Nukaga said Wednesday that Japan has already dispatched Aegis-equipped warships and reconnaissance planes to monitor the situation, and is coordinating intelligence gathering with the United States.

The Kirishima destroyer was in Hawaii along with ships from Australia, Britain, Canada, Chile, Peru, South Korea and the United States for Rim of the Pacific exercises running through late July.

Kyodo said it was scheduled to depart from Hawaii later Wednesday local time — or Thursday in Japan.

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