Antimissile drills end successfully

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Antimissile drills end successfully

South Korea, Japan and the United States conducted their first trilateral antimissile exercise near Hawaii on Tuesday, a significant step in the face of growing North Korean threats.

The Pacific Dragon exercise was primarily aimed at bolstering cooperative intelligence capability among the three nations to better prepare for a sudden North Korean missile attack, an official of the South Korean Navy said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

“The U.S. guided-missile destroyers the USS John Paul Jones and the USS Shoup, as well as its Pacific Missile range facility [on the island of Kauai], participated in the exercise along with the Japanese Aegis-equipped destroyer Chokai,” continued the official.

The South Korean Navy sent three war ships, one of which was the Aegis-equipped Sejong the Great destroyer.

The exercise unfolded as the three nations shared primary information based on detection and tracking data, collected from each Aegis ship, to be used to identify the coordinates of a missile launched from the ground without prior notice. The exercise did not involve an actual firing of an interceptor missile, the official noted.

Due to the absence of a military pact that allows South Korean and the Japanese navies to directly share military information with one another, the U.S. worked as an intermediary between the two.

Seoul and Tokyo pushed for a military pact to enable the sharing of military intelligence in 2012 but dropped the negotiation against the backdrop of negative public sentiment in Korea. Washington’s two allies often find themselves at odds over territorial disputes and historical interpretations over Tokyo’s 36-year colonial rule on the Korean Peninsula in the early 20th century, a gap that inhibits the fostering of closer ties between the two neighbors.

The first trilateral anti-missile exercise came a week after North Korea launched its sixth medium-range Musudan missile, which the North claimed reached an altitude of 1,400 kilometers (869 miles) and flew 400 kilometers. Pyongyang claimed it was a success and that U.S. bases in the Pacific were now within its range. Officials of the three allies agree that the Kim Jong-un regime has made progress with its Musudan technology, as seen by its June 22 launch.

Amid growing worries over the North’s intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) capability, South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo told lawmakers Tuesday that the military would make a final decision on the deployment of the U.S.-made advanced anti-missile system by the end of this year.

Han’s remark was the first of its kind, hinting at the timetable for the highly anticipated decision, which could sour Seoul’s relations with Beijing. But expectation is that South Korea will choose to deploy the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) system anyway.

With missile threats from North Korea growing, Seoul has long favored the deployment of Thaad, which has a powerful radar system that can cover over 1,000 kilometers. Beijing and Moscow have adamantly opposed the idea from the start, asserting that the radar could be used as a means of surveillance against their governments.

Seoul and Washington officially launched working-level talks on the Thaad system in early March.

BY KANG JIN-KYU, JEONG YONG-SOO [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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