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Korea, Japan, U.S. to hold missile defense drill

South Korea said Monday it will hold a joint missile warning exercise with the U.S. and Japan prior to this year’s biennial international maritime warfare exercise in June.

The military drill will be held near the U.S. island state of Hawaii around June 28, before the Rim of the Pacific Exercise takes place from June 30 to Aug. 8.

“South Korea, U.S. and Japan have held joint search and rescue drills numerous times in the past, but this marks the first time we hold a missile warning exercise,” a high-ranking official of Seoul’s Defense Ministry said. “The drill is confined to the framework of the trilateral information sharing pact (on Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile capabilities) and is not a strategic exercise.”
Yonhap
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The pact was reached in December 2014.

Plans to make it a regular drill have not been discussed, the ministry added.

The drill takes place amid rising inter-Korea tensions that have been marked by several provocations from North Korea. Last month, Pyongyang test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile and multiple intermediate-range ballistic missiles; with the former evaluated as a partial success and the latter assessed as failure.

According to the ministry, one Aegis-equipped destroyer from each country will take part in the drill. A military aircraft will stand in for the target -- a ballistic missile -- and each country’s naval forces will track down the target and share related information, such as the target’s direction and trajectory.

The exercise will focus on acquiring intelligence related to detecting and tracking missile launches and will not involve the interception phase, “because of the limitations of the information-sharing pact,” the official said.

Seoul, Washington and Tokyo are currently working to establish the Link 16 military tactical data exchange network that will enable real-time information exchange on North Korean missiles, officials said.

Officials said the forthcoming drill was suggested at the vice-ministerial defense talks that took place right after Pyongyang launched a long-range rocket on Feb. 7. The launch, along with the North’s Jan. 6 nuclear test, had sparked a U.N.-led economic sanctions against the communist state.

But the official stressed the drill does not imply that South Korea will be a part of the U.S.-led missile defense system, and that it was to procure mutual benefits of data exchange.

Potential inclusion of South Korea in the U.S.-led integrated air and missile defense program has been a topic of controversy here, with questions over its effectiveness and the risks of souring relations with other neighbors like China and Russia. China is scheduled to take part in the RIMPAC 2016, while Russia will not participate.

The dispute was raised another notch with Seoul and Washington recently commencing talks to deploy the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system here, which received a boost from the recent provocations of the North.

China and Russia have openly opposed deployment of THAAD, particularly the installing of a high-powered X-band radar that Beijing’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi argued reaches far beyond the defense needs of the Korean Peninsula.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov also recently accused Washington of using North Korean threats as “an excuse, as a pretext” to deploy a “global antiballistic missile defense.”

But South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo has maintained that THAAD is necessary for missile defense. Furthermore, he said that Seoul’s position should not be swayed by China’s diplomatic interests.

“Deploying THAAD should be strictly from the point on whether or not THAAD is necessary to protect our country. But if China views THAAD from a perspective that is beyond military technology (from an international politics point of view), then it becomes a matter of our sovereignty and basic rights,” Han said in a recent interview.

Those who oppose THAAD and the inclusion of a U.S.-led missile defense system say they may infringe upon the military autonomy of South Korea, as the country will be forced to rely on the U.S. system even after taking wartime operational control. The now U.S.-held OPCON is slated to be returned to Seoul in the mid-2020s.

But the ministry has stressed that Seoul is currently working to establish its own defense system, and even if the allies decide to deploy THAAD here, it will be operated in parallel with the homegrown missile defense systems. The Korea Air and Missile Defense and Kill Chain systems -- the former aims to intercept missiles after launch while the latter preemptively strikes upon signs of imminent launches -- are to be set by the early to mid-2020s.

By Yoon Min-sik (minsikyoon@heraldcorp.com)
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