U.S. surveillance of North intensifies during military exercise
U.S. military surveillance activities on North Korea have begun in earnest as the joint U.S.-South Korean military exercise began on Monday.
According to an aircraft tracking website called Radar Box on Tuesday, the U.S. Air Force's ground surveillance reconnaissance aircraft, the Northrop Grumman E-8C Joint Surveillance Target Attack Radar System (Joint Stars), appeared over the Yellow Sea off Taean, South Chungcheong, on Monday and Tuesday at beginning of the joint exercise.
Joint Stars is equipped with a 7.2-meter (23.6-foot)-long high performance surveillance radar at the front of its fuselage. Using this radar, the plane can track and monitor 600 ground targets simultaneously that are up to 250 kilometers (155 miles) away. It can fly for up to 10 hours and has a surveillance area of 1 million square kilometers, about five times the area of the Korean Peninsula.
The U.S. Air Force's Boeing RC-135S reconnaissance plane, also known as the Cobra Ball, made similar maneuvers. The aircraft took off from Kadena Air Base in Okinawa, Japan, on Monday according to the aircraft tracking website, making its way to the East China Sea, south of the Korean Peninsula.
The Cobra Ball, equipped with advanced optical equipment, can observe and track potential launches of North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) from a long distance.
Regarding the flurry of reconnaissance flights in the airspace surrounding the Korean Peninsula, David Maxwell, a senior researcher at the U.S.-South Korea Combined Forces Command's operational staff, told Voice of America (VOA) that the U.S. military was looking out for unusual movements from the North Korean military in response to the joint drills.
“It is a prudent and wise measure to conduct intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance, to observe the military activity so that the combined military force can be ready to defend South Korea,” Maxwell said.
Regarding the possibility of an armed provocation by North Korea during the drills, he said, “Well it's very possible. You know this is their typical playbook that they've been using for 70 years.
“It's part of their blackmail diplomacy in which they use increased tensions, threat and provocations to try to gain political and economic concessions.”
Earlier on Aug. 10, North Korea protested the drills by issuing two consecutive statements under name of Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and deputy information department director of the Workers' Party, and Kim Yong-chol, head of the party’s Unification Front Department.
South Korea will “realize by the minute what a dangerous choice they made and what a serious security crisis they will face because of their wrong choice," said Kim Yong-chol in the second statement on Aug. 11.
According to the South Korean and U.S. military authorities, the drill will be conducted over nine days (excluding weekends) until Aug. 26 as a computer-simulated training directed by the command center. The number of participants in this month's drills was further reduced from the drills which took place in the first half of March.
BY MICHAEL LEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]