U.S. military surveillance concentrates on Korean PeninsulaU.S. military surveillance assets were dispatched near the Korean Peninsula last week, heightening speculation that the United States is on guard for a surprise ballistic missile launch by North Korea.
According to South Korean military sources on Monday, the U.S. missile range instrumentation ship USNS Howard O. Lorenzen was active in the Yellow Sea over the Lunar New Year holidays from Feb. 11 to 14 before leaving South Korea’s coastal waters.
U.S. and South Korean military sources said that the deployment was in preparation for the possibility of a military provocation from North Korea in response to the allies’ joint military exercises beginning March 8.
Equipped with an active electronically scanned array (AESA) that can track airborne objects within a radius of 1,000 kilometers (621 miles), USNS Lorenzen was previously deployed to South Korea’s adjacent waters in 2016 and 2017 to surveil long-range missile launches by the North.
The U.S. surveillance aircraft RC-135S Cobra Ball was also moved from the Offutt Air Force Base in Nebraska to Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, on Feb. 6.
One of only three such surveillance aircraft in the U.S. military arsenal, RC-135S Cobra Ball can track and observe ballistic missile flights at long-range using a measurement and signature intelligence (Masint) collector equipped with electro-optical instruments.
According to an analysis by U.S.-based North Korea specialist news website 38 North, while recent commercial satellite imagery of the North’s Sohae Satellite Launching Station in Dongchang-ri indicates no obvious signs of a potential launch or engine test, active snow removal at the complex shows the site is being maintained at a ready state.
“A launch can happen whenever Kim Jong-un gives the order,” said one military source.
North Korea has previously launched long-range rockets under the pretext of developing a peaceful satellite program. However, the United Nations has banned the North from launching satellites because the same rocket technology can be used to develop long-range missiles.
“North Korea can launch short range missiles and ramp up tensions by launching long-range rockets from Dongchang-ri," said Shin Beom-chul, director of the Center for Diplomacy and Security at the Korea Research Institute for Economy and Society.
“They will add pressure on the United States by exploiting the grey area of peaceful space exploration and use.”
BY LEE CHEOL-JAE, PARK YONG-HAN
AND MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]