The U.S. military has activated a high-powered radar outpost in northern Japan that will enable it to track ballistic missiles in the region amid concerns about North Korea.

The so-called X-Band radar is so powerful it can identify baseball-size objects from thousands of miles away and is designed to differentiate between decoys and real missile warheads.

Japan and the United States began working on the project after neighboring North Korea fired a long-range missile over Japan in 1998.

It is part of a sweeping, multibillion dollar defense shield that also includes the joint production of new missiles capable of intercepting and destroying incoming missiles and the deployment of advanced Patriot interceptor missiles around Japan.

CountryWatch: Japan

U.S. Army Japan press officer Maj. Martha Brooks said Thursday that U.S. Brig. Gen. John E. Seward hosted a ceremony Tuesday at Camp Shariki in northern Aomori state to activate the X-Band unit.

The U.S. military in Japan issued a statement saying that the installation is "a defensive system with no offensive capability."

Brooks declined to say that the X-Band radar was redeployed to keep a better eye on North Korea but said "we're here in defense of Japan, and they put it in a location where they could best track the ballistic missiles."

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The X-Band radar sits across the Sea of Japan from North Korea, where it was moved earlier this summer from the U.S. military's Misawa Air Base in Misawa, also in northern Japan.

Japan is well within range of North Korean missiles and has been deeply disturbed by Pyongyang's test-firing of seven missiles in July, including a long-range missile believed capable of striking the United States.

North Korea boasts that it has nuclear bombs, but the claim has not been independently verified. Many experts believe the North has enough radioactive material to build at least a half-dozen or more nuclear weapons.

CountryWatch: North Korea