Seoul activates real-time sharing of N. Korean missile warning data with Japan, US

Posted on : 2023-12-20 17:13 KST Modified on : 2024-07-22 16:50 KST
Critics say the system exacerbates South Korea’s reliance on the US and Japan while elevating tensions on and around the Korean Peninsula
President Yoon Suk-yeol gavels a Cabinet meeting to order at the presidential office in Seoul’s Yongsan District on Dec. 19. (courtesy of the presidential office)
President Yoon Suk-yeol gavels a Cabinet meeting to order at the presidential office in Seoul’s Yongsan District on Dec. 19. (courtesy of the presidential office)

On Tuesday, South Korea, the US and Japan activated their new system for sharing North Korean missile warning data in real time. The Ministry of National Defense expects the data-sharing system to enrich South Korea’s intelligence regarding North Korean missile launches, which would increase the effectiveness of the “kill chain” system for preemptive strikes against Pyongyang’s ballistic missiles.

Critics say the system exacerbates South Korea’s reliance on the US and Japan while elevating tensions on and around the Korean Peninsula by increasing Seoul’s involvement in a US-led missile defense system.

“Full operational capacity of the [South Korea-US-Japan] missile warning system has been verified through recent tests, and the mechanism is now active,” announced the Defense Ministry on Tuesday, one day after North Korea launched a Hwasong-18 solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

The leaders of the three countries agreed to share warning data on North Korean missile launches in their statement adopted in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, on Nov. 13, 2022, and during the trilateral summit at Camp David this past Aug. 18. Whenever North Korea launches a missile, the system will allow the three countries to share real-time data regarding the suspected origin of the launch, the direction and speed of the missile, and the expected point of impact.

To date, there have been missile warning data-sharing systems between South Korea and US and between Japan and the US, but South Korea and Japan have never shared such data with each other. South Korea and the US have been sharing real-time data on North Korea’s missile launches and nuclear weapons since 2016. Japan has been sharing real-time data collected by the Maritime Self-Defense Forces’ Aegis-equipped destroyers and ground radar with US Forces Japan.

The Defense Ministry seems to have concluded that when it comes to North Korea, the more data and surveillance, the better.

“Our three nations shared information in real time when North Korea launched the Hwasong-18 on Dec. 18, and we discovered that Japan had data that we didn’t have,” said Heo Tae-keun, Seoul’s deputy minister for national defense policy.

The Defense Ministry expects the addition of warning data provided by Japan to increase the effectiveness of its kill chain, which relies on a preemptive strike targeted by identifying a North Korean missile’s launch site. Critics, however, claim that sharing missile warning data in real time will benefit Japan more than South Korea. While South Korea borders North Korea, Japan is separated from North Korea by the East Sea. Japan’s geographical location and the curvature of the earth’s surface commonly produce errors and interference when trying to analyze North Korean missiles flying below a certain altitude.

The new system will likely lead South Korea and Japan to conduct joint training exercises pertaining to early missile warning protocols. Skeptics are worried that the expansion and normalization of trilateral military exercises will force South Korea into an unfavorable “alliance” with Japan.

Furthermore, there is also the concern that an intensification of the trilateral alliance will trigger North Korea to bolster trilateral cooperation with China and Russia. South Korea, the US and Japan established plans on Tuesday to carry out multi-year trilateral training exercises going forward.

On the same day that North Korea launched its Hwasong-18 ICBM, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi met with North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Pak Myong-ho in Beijing, where they exchanged messages of mutual support and trust.

Critics view the data-sharing protocol as South Korea becoming integrated into a US-led missile defense system. Relying on the US as a mediator, the three countries will move as a single unit when detecting missile launches and analyzing their coordinates. China and Russia have decried the US-led missile defense systems in the region as a direct affront to their security.

The trilateral data-sharing system has the potential to serve as part of a wider system for intercepting missiles. The data-sharing system includes the three phases of detect, identify and track. Adding the fourth phase — that is, interception — would cement it as a missile defense system.

“We currently do not have a weapons system for detecting and intercepting missiles that target the US,” said Heo.

“It is inaccurate to say that this constitutes integration into a US-centric missile defense system,” he added.

During a cabinet meeting on the same day, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol declared, “North Korea will realize that its acts of aggression and provocation will boomerang back to them in the form of an even greater suffering.”

By Kwon Hyuk-chul, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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