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Fumio Ota

【#427(Special)】Japan Should Urgently Build Missile Defense against N. Korea

Fumio Ota / 2017.03.21 (Tue)

March 13, 2017

     On the morning of March 6, North Korea fired four apparent SCUD Extended Range (ER) ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan. I would like to analyze the military meaning of the firing, predict future developments and propose what Japan should do.

Clear improvement in missile capabilities
     The latest firing of multiple land-based ballistic missiles was the third, following the August 3 firing of two missiles and the September 5 firing of three from North Korea’s west coast into Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
     The latest firing indicated the following advancements. First, the latest firing was almost simultaneous launch of four missiles, while the September firing indicated considerable time lags between the three launchings. Second, the latest firing came from a rough terrain, while the September firing was done from a paved road. Third, the latest firing took place in the early morning, while the previous one came around noon.
     The first point means an improvement in the precision of saturation attacks to outdo adversary defense capabilities. The second point indicates that North Korea can fire missiles from any terrain. The third point demonstrates that North Korea can conduct a surprise attack by injecting fuel into missiles during the nighttime when reconnaissance satellites cannot detect preparations for launching missiles.
     In the future, North Korea is expected to simultaneously fire different-profile missiles including a SCUD ER, a Rodong and a Musudan or launch multiple missiles from different sites into the same target, making missile defense difficult.

Consider Aegis Ashore or other means
     If North Korea conducts saturation attacks from different sites with different-profile missiles, the present ballistic missile defense system may have difficulties in intercepting all missiles. To counter such attacks, Japan may have to deploy so-called Aegis Ashore onshore defense system or the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) missile system set to be deployed in South Korea in addition to the present combination of Aegis destroyers and Patriot-3 interceptor missiles. Japan may also have to develop Directed-Energy Weapons (DEW) such as rail guns and laser systems, or have capabilities to attack enemy missile launching sources. However, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told the House of Councilors Budget Committee on March 8 that the government has no plan to have capabilities to attack enemy missile sites.
     Every time when North Korea fired ballistic missiles, the Japanese government issued a statement saying it instructed relevant agencies to thoroughly gather information and filed a strict protest with North Korea. But information gathering would be meaningless unless it is useful for making policies, and any strict protest against North Korea clearly has no effect.
     Meanwhile, the U.S. military flew B2 stealth bomber armed with Bunker Buster and Wide Area Sweeper bombs on October 6 after North Korea fired ballistic missiles and conducted a nuclear test last September. The Trump administration said it was considering all possible options on North Korea. Unless some measures are taken to give North Korea the cold shivers, its escalation of threats may not be prevented.

Fumio Ota is a JINF Planning Committee Member and retired Vice Admiral of Japan’s Maritime Self-Defense Force.