The US military, NASA, and Jet Propulsion Laboratory members observe NASA`s low-density supersonic decelerator (LDSD) test vehicle trajectory after its launch from U.S. Navy`s Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii. (File Photo - US Indo-Pacific Command)
South Korea’s Navy will join a Pacific Dragon multilateral ballistic missile defense exercise and separately conduct a live-fire drill to test the ability and performance of surface-to-air missile interceptors.
The two separate military drills will be staged during the US-led biennial Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, exercise, multiple South Korean military officials, who wished to remain anonymous, confirmed to The Korea Herald on Wednesday.
The 28th RIMPAC exercise, the world’s largest international maritime exercise, is set to be conducted for 37 days from June 29 to Aug. 4 in and around the Hawaiian Islands and Southern California.
Pacific Dragon BMD exercise
South Korea, the United States, Australia and Japan plan to conduct the Pacific Dragon ballistic missile search and tracking exercise in Hawaii between Aug. 1 and 14. But the current plan is subject to change depending on the schedule for other training exercises at RIMPAC as well as the weather.
Canada -- which is one of the members of the Five Eyes intelligence alliance along with Australia, New Zealand, the US and the UK -- might join this year’s Pacific Dragon, according to South Korean military sources.
The Pacific Dragon ballistic missile defense exercise aims to improve interoperability and tactical and technical coordination among participants in detecting, tracking, reporting and assessing ballistic targets.
The Pacific Dragon was conducted between South Korea, the US and Japan for the first time in 2016 off the coast of the Pacific Missile Range Facility in Kauai, Hawaii.
During the drill, South Korean, US and Japanese warships with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System tracked a virtual target and shared information including trajectory data through a tactical data network.
South Korea participated in the Pacific Dragon ballistic missile defense drills in 2018 and 2020 held during previous RIMPAC exercises, but the drills were not disclosed to the public and were deliberately kept low-key under the Moon Jae-in government.
The Pacific Dragon exercise is open to the public for the first time since 2016.
S. Korea’s standalone live-fire missile drill
South Korea’s Navy also plans to independently and separately conduct the live-fire missile drill in mid-July on the sidelines of RIMPAC 2022, South Korean military officials told The Korea Herald.
During the exercise, Standard Missile-2 surface-to-air missiles will be launched from South Korean warships against virtual targets to test the ability and performance of the missiles.
The 7,600-ton Sejong the Great-class Aegis destroyer and 4,400-ton Munmu the Great destroyer -- which have been dispatched for RIMPAC -- will each fire one SM-2 interceptor in waters off Hawaii, according to a military source.
The ship-launched air defense SM-2 missiles are designed to defend against anti-ship cruise missiles and aircraft, but the SM-2 missiles mounted on the South Korean ships cannot intercept incoming ballistic missiles.
Publicizing missile defense drills
The Yoon Suk-yeol government’s move to announce its participation in the Pacific Dragon ballistic missile defense drill and plan to stage the standalone live-fire missile exercise is in line with the trilateral agreement between South Korea, the US and Japan.
The defense chiefs of the three countries committed to regularizing and publicizing trilateral warning and ballistic missile search and tracking exercises that have been conducted regularly but at a low profile until now.
South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo reached an accord during rare, in-person talks held Saturday on the sidelines of the Shangri-La Dialogue Asian security summit.
The decision mainly aims to send a message to North Korea, which launched 31 ballistic missiles including intercontinental ballistic missiles in less than six months this year breaking the previous record of 25 in 2019.
Seoul, Washington and Tokyo also plan to conduct a simulation-based trilateral missile warning exercise twice or more later this year, according to another military source.
The three countries agreed to conduct a trilateral missile warning exercise in which South Korean, US and Japanese warships track a virtual ballistic target and trade communications and information every three months in 2016. But the missile warning exercise has been staged just once this year and only three times last year.
N. Korea’s backlash
South Korea has recently stepped up its military exercises with the US and trilateral security cooperation with the US and Japan against North Korea’s mounting missile and nuclear threats.
South Korea has dispatched the largest-scale naval fleet and a brigadier general to the US-led RIMPAC exercise for the first time since its first participation in 1990.
North Korea’s propaganda media outlets, which mainly target South Korean audiences, on Monday launched a blistering criticism of the recent South Korea-US bilateral military exercises and the South Korean Navy’s largest presence at the RIMPAC exercise.
“Through their rash behavior, the South Korean military warmongers once again reveal their true identity as the main culprit of tensions on the Korean Peninsula … and the destroyer of peace,” the Uriminzokkiri said in a Korean-language commentary.
The Uriminzokkiri denounced the Yoon government for spearheading efforts to ratchet up military pressure on Pyongyang in coordination with other countries and for closely aligning on the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific strategy.
“It is only the curse and condemnation by the international community and miserable fate that South Korean military warmongers, which go on the rampage staging dangerous rehearsals for invading North Korea, will face.”
The North Korean mouthpiece Meari specifically condemned South Korea for dispatching the largest-scale naval fleet to the RIMPAC exercise and warned of consequences of South Korea’s close alignment with the US.
“In a word, the conservative government is trying to win the favor of its superior by proving that they put the top priority on the ‘South Korea-US alliance’ even if they become cannon fodder,” Meari said. “The final stop of the subservience to the stronger, dependence on foreign power and blind ‘loyalty’ to the US will be destruction.”