North Korea Fires 2 Ballistic Missiles into East Sea, S.Korea Calls

The fact that they were fired in short intervals and in different directions is seen as a move to thwart the South Korean and U.S. intelligence-gathering activities which would prove dangerous if North Korea was about to launch an attack on major targets such as Seoul or key military installations in Yongsan-gu, Pyeongtaek and Daegu where some 28,500 American troops are stationed, according to Ministry of National Defense (MND).

According to Yonhap News, the NK Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of Korea (CPRK) said that Pyongyang’s recent development of powerful weapons aims at retaliating against President Park Geun H and her conservative administration which continue to ignore calls for dialogue on Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons development. The North Korean committee said in a statement that the aim of the ongoing Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills jointly conducted by South Korea and U.S. is to prepare for actual aggression against Pyongyang, adding that its recent push for strong military countermeasures were aimed at sending out warnings against their provocative acts.

The DPRK decided in retaliation against Seoul and Washington over ongoing joint military exercises being held south of the border which were described as “unpardonable actions (that) hurt the dignified sovereignty of our republic.” By conducting such large scale exercises despite our repeated warnings, they are seeking to wage an all-out war against us under the pretext of annual drills.” It added that it will continue to push ahead with its four-year pursuit for bolstering military deterrence against the South and U.S., warning that it will take full responsibility for any ensuing consequences.

The difference in points of view between Pyongyang and Seoul is continuing to further escalate tension on the peninsula as Park Geun Hye’s government has purposed an additional installment of 5 trillion won (US $4.67 billion) to bolster her so-called “progressive defense policy” aimed at countering Pyongyang’s increasing nuclear threats, arguing that it would be escalating if they sit idle upon North Korea’s provocations.

According to reports, South Korea is planning to spend 2.2 trillion won (US $2 billion) this year on its own missile defense system called M-SAM Cheolmae II (Iron Hawk) which is manufactured by LIG Nex1. The system will become operational in mid-2017.

Ro Kyu Bu 111, armed with an automatic gun and missiles, is designed to destroy enemy ballistic missiles at the terminal phase of their trajectory. Other components of the “three-layer” defense include Green Pine radar, also produced by LIG Nex1, designed to spot enemy missiles when they are in their initial stage over North Korea; K9 Thunder 155 mm self-propelled howitzer with a range of some 40 km intended to counter North Korean ground attacks; Cheongung anti-air guided missile jointly developed by Samsung and LIG Nex1 whose range exceeds 50 km and intercepts enemy missiles at the altitude of around 19 to 25 km. RoK Army is also planning to introduce F-35A stealth fighter jets from 2018 and will be deploying a “three-axis” defense system, which consists of Patriot PAC-3, Green Pine radar and Iron Hawk missiles.

North Korea Fires 2 Ballistic Missiles

In an interview with The Korea Times, Deputy National Defense Minister Yoo Jeh Seung said that the deployment of four additional THAAD batteries was not viable due to financial reasons, adding that by 2020 over 20 batteries worth some 17 trillion won (US $16 billion) will be added as a response to North Korea’s nuclear weapons development program. “Our goal is to further expand cooperation with U.S., including sharing related costs,” he added.

Yoo further raised doubts over the feasibility of Seoul building its own nuclear weapons to counter Pyongyang, saying that it is currently not an option under consideration by President Park’s government. “Now is the time for putting maximum pressure on North Korea to force it back to talks,” he said, adding that they are seeking more support from Congress in terms of budgetary allocation.

Meanwhile, the U.S. will be sending over two additional THAAD battery and advance missile defense system to Guam as a response to North Korea’s increasing nuclear capability and push for stronger military deterrence against South Korea and Japan. The 1st Fighter Wing stationed at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson (JBER) in Alaska will send six F-22 Raptors which is the Air Force’s most advanced stealth fighter aircraft currently in service, to Kadena Air Base in Japan by “early fall.”

The 1st FW is set to deploy 10 F-35A Lightning IIs around 2018 which will be assigned to the 33rd Fighter Wing at JBER. Deployment of additional THAAD batteries and missile defense systems to Guam will also follow in the middle of next year. The U.S. already has an existing Missile Defense Task Force (MDF) Headquarters unit stationed at Naval Base Guam composed of some 300 personnel in charge of bolstering missile defenses for allies Japan and South Korea against North Korean threats. Besides military buildup aimed at countering Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities, Washington is looking to seek more support from China and Russia, both of which share a land border with North Korea.

China’s Foreign Ministry on Friday summoned the ambassador to lodge an official protest against the decision by South Korea and U.S. to go ahead with THAAD deployment despite strong opposition from Beijing which claimed that it would not only destabilize regional security but also damage its strategic interests.

Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov telephoned his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi to seek Beijing’s support for Moscow joining forces in developing a common strategy toward Pyongyang based on “maximum pressure” including fresh UN sanctions. According to reports, during their talks both ministers expressed dissatisfaction with Seoul and Washington going ahead with THAAD deployment without first consulting them.

The general’s threat came hours after Pyongyang claimed that it had successfully tested an advanced hydrogen bomb detonator . As I have said before, North Korea regularly makes such claims but the international community has yet to prove it is really in possession of functional hydrogen nukes. Anyway, there are still doubts about its effective weaponization capabilities so far. This prompted some U.S., South Korean and Japanese experts to speculate over whether Kim might be bluffing or trying to get more attention from Washington with his latest statement.

I believe that North Korea is quite determined on testing its nukes although I don’t think they are capable enough of launching them at either Japan or Guam just yet.