The US has deployed naval ships to the region ahead of a planned North Korean rocket launch.

Two guided missile destroyers  – the USS Benfold and the USS Fitzgerald – both equipped with the Aegis ballistic missile defense system, moved in to track North Korea’s launch, with Admiral Samuel Locklear saying it was only “logical” for the ships to deploy there.

“To the degree that those ships are capable of participating in ballistic missile defense, then we’ll position them to be able to do that,” Locklear told AFP, adding that they “are monitoring very closely”.

Locklear said the US Navy had also deployed ships before the last North Korean launch in April. A Navy official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP the navy were moving in to “monitor any potential missile launch by North Korea and to reassure regional allies should a launch occur.”

The impeding launch would “exacerbate tensions in the region and further destabilize the Korean peninsula,” NATO said in a statement as the alliance called on Pyongyang to abolish the plan.

North Korea attempted to put a satellite into orbit in April but failed. Even as Pyongyang claimed it was “peaceful”, the move drew international condemnation as a guise for missile tests.

Locklear said North Korea’s missile technology has steadily improved but it was unclear whether this month’s launch would be successful.

Japan has also deployed missile batteries on islands directly under the likely flight path of the North Korean rocket and is prepared to shoot down the missile should it threaten Japanese territory, the Asahi Shimbun reports.