N. Korea missile tests boost regional arms
The simultaneous launch of four missiles could be a test for a “saturation attack,” Japan warns.
The apparent success TOKYO — of four simultaneous missile launchings by North Korea on Monday raised new alarms about the threat to its neighbors and its progress toward developing an ability to overcome their ballistic missile defense systems, including those that have yet to be deployed.
According to the South Korean military, North Korea launched four ballistic missiles from its long-range rocket launch site Monday morning.
In Japan, analysts said the launches suggested that North Korea could pose a more serious threat than indicated by previous tests.
“That would mean a lot in terms of the defense of Tokyo, because North Korea might have been conducting a simulation of a ‘saturation attack’ in which they launch a number of missiles simultaneously in order to saturate the missile defense that Japan has,” said Narushige Michishita, director of the Security and International Studies Program at the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies in Tokyo.
“It would be difficult for Japan to shoot down four missiles all at the same time because of our limited missile defense.”
The missile tests came three weeks after North Korea tested a missile during a U.S. visit by Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, to meet with President Donald Trump.
The launch Monday happened as the United States and South Korea were conducting their annual joint military exercise. North Korea calls such drills a rehearsal for invasion and has often responded by conducting missile tests.
Japan’s coast guard sent out navigation warnings and stepped up air and sea patrols Monday after three of the missiles landed within the country’s so-called exclusive economic zone, where fishing and cargo ships are active.
The fourth landed outside it, though nearby.
This was not the first time that North Korean test missiles have fallen within that zone. In both August and September last year, missiles came within 125 and 155 miles of the Japanese coastline. Monday’s missiles landed about 185 to 220 miles west of Akita prefecture, on the northern coast of the main island, Honshu.
The September launches involved three missiles fired simultaneously, but this time North Korea set off four missiles at once, all of which seemed to land successfully.
During a parliamentary committee session Monday morning, Abe said that the launches “clearly represent a new threat from North Korea.”
Japan and the United States requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council to discuss the launches, most likely for Wednesday.
The missiles took off from Tongchang-ri, in northwestern North Korea, and flew an average of 620 miles before falling into the sea between North Korea and Japan, said Noh Jae-chon, a South Korean military spokesman.
The type of missile fired was not immediately clear, but Noh said it was unlikely that they were intercontinental ballistic missiles, which the North had recently threatened to test launch.
In South Korea, the launch prompted South Korean security officials to call for the early deployment of the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense System, or THAAD, an advanced U.S. anti-missile system.
China has protested THAAD as a threat to its own nuclear deterrence because its powerful radar would be able to track Chinese missile launches.
Michishita, of the National Graduate Institute for Policy Studies, said the missile launches could accelerate a discussion within the Japanese government about whether Japan should acquire more missile defense systems, including THAAD. In January, Japan’s defense minister, Tomomi Inada, visited a U.S. Air Force base on Guam for a briefing on THAAD.
South Korean army soldiers ride on the back of a truck in Paju, near the border with North Korea. That country on Monday fired four banned ballistic missiles that flew about 620 miles, with three of them landing in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, South Korean and Japanese officials said.