Japan, U.S., S. Korea dispatch destroyers to track N. Korean missile

April 09, 2013

By YOSHIHIRO MAKINO/ Correspondent

Japan, the United States and South Korea will deploy seven radar-equipped ships in the Sea of Japan to monitor, and possibly destroy, any ballistic missiles launched by North Korea.

The ships are all equipped with the Aegis Combat System, a weapons array that uses computers and radar to track and guide weapons to destroy enemy targets.

Japan dispatched two destroyers of the Maritime Self-Defense Force to the Sea of Japan by April 9. The U.S. Navy also sent three Aegis destroyers not only to waters near Japan, but also in the vicinity of Guam to protect that U.S. territory.

According to government sources of the three allies, the Kongo and Kirishima destroyers, belonging to the MSDF, have been deployed to the Sea of Japan. One will likely be positioned to cover the northeastern part of Japan, while the other assigned closer to western Japan.

One U.S. Aegis destroyer has been sent near the waters of Guam, while another is being deployed off the eastern coast of the Shimokita Peninsula in northern Japan.

The USS Shiloh, a guided missile cruiser that has advanced interceptor missile capability, departed from Yokosuka Naval Base on April 8.

The two South Korean Aegis-equipped ships will be deployed off the coasts to the east and west of the Korean Peninsula.

The medium-range ballistic missile Musudan, which North Korea has been moving in recent days for a possible launch, has a range of about 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles). That was estimated based on the diameter and overall length of the missile that has been displayed in public, as well as from the capability of the SSN-6 submarine-launched ballistic missile developed by the former Soviet Union on which the Musudan is modeled on.

However, the specific capabilities of the Musudan remain unknown because it has not been test-launched in the past.

Another major problem facing Japan and its two allies is the fact the Musudan missile has been placed on a mobile launch pad. That means it will be extremely difficult to determine the target of the missile until immediately before its launch.

Experts believe the missile could reach the vicinity of Japan about 10 minutes after it is launched.

For those reasons, Japan and the United States have deployed one Aegis destroyer each in waters to the east and west of northeastern Japan. That decision was made based on the experience in April 2009 when a long-range ballistic missile launched by North Korea flew over Akita and Iwate prefectures in northern Japan.

The main objective of the two Aegis destroyers near northern Japan will be to gather intelligence on the Musudan, but they may be called on to shoot down a missile if it becomes clear that it could land in either Japan or Hawaii.

The United States has also deployed an Aegis destroyer in the vicinity of Guam because of the need to protect that island. One of the MSDF Aegis destroyers will gather intelligence while keeping in mind the possibility that a Musudan could be targeted at Guam. The SDF will have a data-link with the U.S. military to share information gathered.

The two South Korean Aegis destroyers do not have the capability to intercept ballistic missiles, nor do they have sufficient data-link capability with the U.S. military. Those destroyers will likely focus on gathering intelligence to prepare for an analysis of the capability of the Musudan.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe talked to reporters on April 9 about the recent moves by North Korea.

"We are calmly doing what we have to, while also cooperating with the relevant nations," Abe said. "There will be a need to implement the economic sanctions included in the recently passed U.N. (Security Council) resolution. We will take every precaution to protect the lives and safety of the public."

By YOSHIHIRO MAKINO/ Correspondent
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The Aegis destroyer Myoko, front, and Kongo depart from Sasebo Port on Dec. 6, 2012, to monitor a potential North Korean missile launch. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

The Aegis destroyer Myoko, front, and Kongo depart from Sasebo Port on Dec. 6, 2012, to monitor a potential North Korean missile launch. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)

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  • The Aegis destroyer Myoko, front, and Kongo depart from Sasebo Port on Dec. 6, 2012, to monitor a potential North Korean missile launch. (Asahi Shimbun file photo)
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