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South Korea, Japan Vow to Intercept North Korea Launch Debris

SEOUL — South Korea has vowed to shoot down any missile parts in their airspace from an anticipated rocket launch this month by North Korea.

North Korea said Tuesday it planned to launch an Earth observation satellite on a rocket between Feb. 8 and 25, but that has been dismissed by many as a cover for a banned missile test.

North Korea's Nuclear Program 1:33

Those fears were underscored Wednesday when U.S. researchers said new satellite images of a northwestern North Korea military site showed increased activity in line with a launch.

Activities at the site are "similar to that seen prior to a previous launch in 2012" and are "suggestive of launch preparations," according to an update from the Johns Hopkins University's 38North project.

However, it could not be certain that a launch vehicle was present.

Image: Satellite images show increased activity at the North Korea launch site
Satellite images show increased activity at the North Korea launch site Handout / 38North/CNES

South Korea's defense ministry said Thursday it had deployed its Advanced Patriot System to be used "if and when" Pyongyang fired a long-range weapon.

"In exercising our rights to self-defense and to protect the safety and property of our people, we are planning to shoot down any North Korean missile booster parts that enter or land on South Korean air space as well as ground and maritime territories if and when North Korea goes ahead with the planned missile launch," a spokesman for the South Korea Defense Ministry told NBC News.

Japan confirmed Wednesday it too would mobilize interceptors on the outer islands of Okinawa. Local media reports in Japan said debris was expected to fall in three areas of international waters.

Related: U.S. Student Arrested in North Korea: State Media

North Korea has spent decades trying to develop operational nuclear weapons along with missiles capable of striking the mainland United States.

The country's last long-range rocket launch, in December 2012, was seen as having successfully put the country's first satellite into orbit after a string of failures.