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Japan orders NK rocket intercepted. S. Korea wants to shoot it down, too, but can it?

The Japanese defense minister has ordered his nation’s forces to shoot down a North Korean rocket if—and this is the big if—it threatens Japanese territory:

Japan’s defence minister said Friday he had issued an order to shoot down a North Korean rocket if it threatens the nation’s territory, a planned launch that has raised global alarm bells.
[...]
“I issued a destroy order,” Defence Minister Naoki Tanaka told reporters in Tokyo, saying he had received the green light to shoot it down.

What is more interesting is a story by the Dong-A Ilbo’s military affairs guy that while both Japan and South Korea have declared they would intercept the rocket if it were to threaten their territory, the latter would have a very difficult time doing so.

Japan’s Aegis warships carry the RIM-161 Standard Missile 3, or the SM-3, which the US Navy used to take out an old US spy satellite just before reentry in 2008.

Korea’s Aegis ships, however, carry just the SM-2, which is great for taking out aircraft and cruise missiles, but insufficient for taking out ballistic missiles or missile fragments flying several times the speed of sound due to its lack of speed and range.

As the Dong-A notes, Korea’s Aegis warships have better “eyes” (a.k.a. radar) than their American and Japanese counterparts, but because they don’t have the “fist” (a.k.a. missiles) to hit ballistic missiles, they must rely on other countries’ ships. For example, during a Korea-US ballistic missile interception exercise in the waters off Hawaii in 2010, Korea’s Sejong the Great tracked the missile and provided the information, but the actual interception was done with an SM-3 fired from an US Navy Aegis ship.

The same goes for Korea’s ground-based PAC-2 missiles and Japan’s spiffy new PAC-3s. The PAC-3s are just much better at taking out balistic missiles. And this, the Dong-A Ilbo notes, makes Korea’s stated plan to shoot down the missile ring hollow.

The Japanese, on the other hand, are expressing confidence in their missile defense and using the North Korean rocket launch as an opportunity to upgrade their alliance with the United States. For example, Japan has just set up a joint operations coordination center at Yokota to coordinate activities between the US Fifth Air Force and Japan’s ASDF. According to the Dong-A, this place—with about 800 personnel from both the USAF and ASDF—is a joint US-Japan MD command center.

The Dong-A concluded by saying North Korea’s rocket provocation appeared to be resulting in the acceleration of US-Japan military coordination and the expansions of the Japanese SDF’s role in the Asia-Pacific region. Now was the time to consider carefully the implication this would have on the security of the Korean Peninsula.

The Chosun Ilbo, meanwhile, reported the same concerns, and added that Korea is talking with the United States in hopes of getting support from the US 7th Fleet and/or USFK’s own PAC-3s at Osan, Gunsan and Waegwan.

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  • http://www.xanga.com/wangkon936 WangKon936

    South Korea, stop being so cheap. Buy some SM-3s dawg.

  • Granfalloon

    Related question: has anyone said anything about a possible media blackout for details about the launch? I remember reading a commentator (Myers? Lankov? not sure) explaining that North Korea is mostly dependent on foreign media for information about whether their rockets actually go where they want them to go.

  • http://dok.do/4aVK41 Year of the Dragon

    That would work, have a media blackout and North Korea would never know where the missile went.

    problem is, neither would any of us either.

  • Yu Bum Suk

    I was surprised how much my ex-coworker, an air force reserve officer, disparaged Korea’s level of technology, especially in comparison to Japan. In his view Japan could gain air supremacy over SK as quickly as SK could over NK.

  • 깊은 구멍 속에

    Wangkon – I’m rather inclined to believe its an unwillingness on the part of the US to sell them to South Korea rather than Korea being too cheap to purchase them.

  • Yu Bum Suk

    #5, wouldn’t it be more likely because SK can rely on the US to use them if really necessary?

  • http://rjkoehler.com Robert Koehler

    I’m rather inclined to believe its an unwillingness on the part of the US to sell them to South Korea rather than Korea being too cheap to purchase them.

    Nah, it was just Seoul being cheap. Or at least trying to be cheap:

    이번 핀란드에서 단속에 걸린 패트리엇은 독일연방군이 최신형 패트리엇(PAC-3)을 배치하며 강제퇴역시킨 구형 모델(PAC-2)이다. 다른 나라에서 쓰던 구형 중고제품을 들여온 이유는 물론 돈이다.

    국방부는 2003년 기존 나이키 미사일을 대신하기 위한 차세대 지대공미사일 도입 사업(SAM-X)을 추진하기 시작했다. 당시 최신형이었던 PAC-3 미사일 도입에 2조~3조원가량이 필요한 것으로 나오자 ‘과다한 전력투자’라는 지적이 나와 결국 사업이 보류됐다. 정부는 2007년 독일에서 구형 PAC-2 미사일과 발사대를 들여오고, 지상 통제장비는 미국제 신형 PAC-3형을 도입하기로 했다. 구형 모델이라지만 발당 가격이 114만유로(17억원가량)에 달해 전체 사업비는 1조원가량이었다. PAC-3은 발당 가격이 100억원에 이른다.

    문제는 거액을 들여 도입한 PAC-2의 효용성을 둘러싼 논란이 끊이지 않는다는 점이다. 직접 명중능력(hit-to-kill)이 있는 PAC-3과 달리 PAC-2는 항공기 주변에서 폭발해서 파편으로 목표물을 맞히는 방식이어서 정확도와 위력이 떨어지기 때문이다. 구형이어서 부품 수급에도 문제가 있다는 지적이 많고, 지난 9월 국정감사에서는 PAC-2 미사일 8개 포대 가운데 3개 포대의 추적레이더가 고장나 6개월째 가동이 중단된 사실이 드러나기도 했다. ‘짜깁기 후유증’이라는 분석도 나왔다.

    You could almost admire it in a way.

    http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/politics/defense/511604.html

  • Wedge

    #5: Wrong. The U.S. has been trying to sell them top stuff (except Global Hawks or F-22s) for decades. This is what happens when you buy secondhand German Patriots. Koreans are cheap when it comes to defense–not enough spare parts to keep aircraft flying is another perennial issue.

    #6: Right. I saw in one of the papers today that Thurman wants Uncle Sam to return one of the AH-64 battalions to Korea… NOOOOOoooooooo! Do that and Korea will never buy the Apache. It’ll be 20+ years of sales efforts down the drain for the military-industrial complex.

  • http://www.sigma1.wordpress.com sigma1

    Developments such as joint coordination at Yokota etc were already in the pipeline, but just getting an additional push. The current Japanese government is loving all this – they get to do what they were always going to do but the “crisis” distracts from the tension at home over the consumption tax rise, and somewhat prevents the Chinese from claiming Japan is directing its military build up towards China and everything that would normally be associated with that.

  • dokdoforever

    China will regret giving the North such a loose leash if Japan goes ahead and shoots down that missile. Japanese missile defense could plausibly be used to defend against Chinese missiles as well. Irrespective of effectiveness, Korean and Japanese missile defense necessitates closer coordination with the US, further integrating the military forces opposing China. A successful shoot down would humiliate the North as well.

    If the North was really just interested in satellites – they could launch their satellite in Xinjiang province or Kazakhstan, or somewhere less threatening to their neighbors. I’m hoping for a big explosion in the atmosphere far above Japan.

  • cm

    South Korea doesn’t even have transport helicopters for its Marines. The United States just offered to South Korea, for free, a fleet of Vietnam War era transport carriers for ROK Marines. Seoul is mulling over the offer, out of the consideration of maintenance cost of old aircrafts, versus cost of buying new.

    Just a reminder though, South Korea is rated number two in Asia, in import of foreign arm, after India, from 2007 to 2011.

    http://news.yahoo.com/asia-worlds-top-weapons-importer-sipri-060329337.html

    And most of that stuff were bought from the US.

    It’s just that under the left wing administrations between 1998 and 2008, country’s defense and intelligence gathering has been totally neglected because of anti-Americanism and ‘peace’ with North Korea.

  • characteristic

    cm #11 – actually, the Right in Korea isn’t blameless in allowing Korea’s military to become underequipped, undertrained and over-abused. If anything, they are more to blame because of their complacency and penny-pinching with regard to defense. Many members of the party formerly known as the GNP and indeed the president himself didn’t serve in the military. Also, there was this clown: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/southkorea/8176443/South-Korean-party-chief-claims-Thermos-flasks-are-North-Korean-shells.html

    LMB’s government also approved the construction of this http://www.koreaherald.com/national/Detail.jsp?newsMLId=20090112000055 despite opposition by the ROK airforce. This project had already been disapproved by the previous (yes, RMH) administration due to its adverse effect on the nearby Songnam Air Force Base.

    As loathsome as the Korean Left is, the Right deserves greater contempt for its corruption, greed and cowardice.

  • http://atlantarofters.blogspot.com The Sanity Inspector

    I hope the U.S., the ROK, and Israel are all secretly helping South Korea develop an Arrow style ABM system.