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What dodging North Korean missiles taught me about shooting down Kim Jong Un’s growing arsenal


A photo of what North Korea’s government said was the August 29, 2017, test launch of a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile.

A North Korean missile launch in August 2017 sent people in South Korea and Japan scrambling to bunkers.
The missile broke up and fell into the Pacific, but North Korea’s growing missile arsenal remains a concern.
The US, South Korea, and Japan all have missile defenses, but stopping an incoming missile is no easy feat.

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As a South Korean military interpreter participating in a combined exercise with the US on August 29, 2017, my day began with a jolt, as a North Korean ballistic missile hurtled toward Japan at 6:00 a.m.

Not knowing the exact trajectory in the first few minutes, I quickly headed into underground bunkers near Seoul with my fellow service members.

Radars predicted that the missile would cross Japan’s airspace over its northernmost island, Hokkaido. Japan was faced with two options: shoot it down or let it pass.

The Japanese government chose not to intercept that missile. It ultimately fractured into three pieces and landed in the Pacific Ocean, but debris could have fallen onto unsuspecting citizens. Even worse, an actual nuclear strike could wipe out an entire city.

With North Korea demonstrating its ability to reach most of the US, improving missile-defense systems has quickly become a concern for everyday citizens.

Tokyo’s decision to disregard that ballistic missile compelled me to ask whether South Korea, Japan, and the US were well prepared for such missile threats.

Layered defenses, split-second decisions
A TV news program reporting on North Korea’s missile launch, in Tokyo, August 29, 2017.

The US defends its territory with a layered system that has several chances to intercept a North Korean missile: in the boost phase soon after launch near the Korean Peninsula and Japan, again over the ocean during the missile’s midcourse phase, and lastly near US territory as the missile enters its terminal phase.

All three options, however, need much improvement.

An intercept over the ocean is challenging because Aegis ships and fighter jets must anticipate where it will impact, which is made more challenging by the fact that Aegis ships and fighters have never attempted to intercept a ballistic missile in combat.

For land-based defense, the Pentagon has slammed its own flagship system, the Ground-based Midcourse Defense, for its insufficient radars and unreliability: Its success rate is barely over 50%.

Improving the intercept ability of South Korea and Japan has therefore been important to the US’s own national interests.

US Navy Aegis-equipped destroyer USS Hopper launches a Standard Missile 3 during an exercise in the Pacific Ocean, July 30, 2009.

The US’s recent termination of the missile guidelines it imposed on South Korea in 1979 is a step toward allowing its allies to prepare defenses for North Korea’s long-range missiles.

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Source:: Business Insider

      

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