S. Korea Determined To Shoot Down Rocket
By JUNG SUNG-KI and WENDELL MINNICK
SEOUL — The South Korean military is poised to shoot down a North Korean rocket should it stray into South Korean territory during a launch planned for next month, a defense ministry official here in Seoul said March 26.
The response comes as Seoul’s intelligence authorities confirmed that the main body of a North Korean Unha-3 rocket was moved to a new missile site at Dongchang-ri in northwestern North Korea. Dongchang-ri, in North Pyeongan Province, is significantly larger than the one in Musudan-ri, North Hamgyeong Province, where North Korea test-fired the Taepodong-2 missile in 2009.
The launch angle will be the first to take a southern trajectory and marks the first time a rocket has been launched from this facility.
North Korea plans to fire the rocket to put a satellite into orbit between April 12 and 16 to mark the 100th anniversary of the birth of its founding leader Kim Il-sung.
However, the international community believes the rocket launch is a disguised test of a long-range ballistic missile that could deliver a nuclear warhead to targets in Alaska and Hawaii, as well as other Asia-Pacific nations, such as Australia and Indonesia.
“We’re preparing measures to track the missile’s trajectory and shoot it down if, by any chance, it deviates from the planned route and falls into our territory,” Col. Yoon Won-shik, vice spokesman for the Ministry of National Defense, told reporters.
“North Korea’s move is a grave provocation and defiance against the international community,” Yoon said. “Through the rocket launch, we believe, the North is aimed at improving and developing its long-range ballistic missile to deliver nuclear warheads.”
According to South Korean Navy officials, two destroyers, including a 7,600-ton Sejong the Great-class Aegis destroyer, are to be deployed in the West Sea to monitor the missile launch.
If parts of the three-stage North Korean rocket stray from their trajectory and violate South Korea’s territory, the destroyers will fire SM-2 ship-to-air missiles to take them down, a Navy spokesman said.
“The Army will also be ready to fire PAC-2 missiles to intercept parts of the rocket if they fly too close to the South’s territory,” Yoon said. In 2007, South Korea purchased 48 secondhand PAC-2 missile systems from Germany as part of efforts to establish a low-tier air and missile defense system in coordination with ship-based SM-2 missiles and Israel’s Super Green Pine early warning radars.
The North Korean launch site has created new problems for South Korean efforts to intercept and monitor ballistic missiles and rockets. The angle from which the rocket will be launched will make it more difficult to intercept by seaborne ballistic-missile defense systems, said Bruce Bechtol, author of the book, “Defiant Failed State: The North Korean Threat to International Security.”
The new site at Dongchang-ri “can potentially be set up more quickly and denial/deception procedures implemented more effectively than the site at Musudan,” he said. “This impacts on warning time for U.S./[Republic of Korea] policy makers.”
Bechtol said the most important aspect of this launch will not be the southern trajectory, but “seeing if this missile can actually make it through all three stages successfully of the launch cycle.” If successful, this will mean that North Korea will finally have the capability to strike U.S. territory.
U.S. President Barack Obama has renewed his warning against North Korea’s provocations.
“There will be no rewards for provocations. Those days are over,” Obama said March 26 in Seoul. “To the leaders of Pyongyang, I say, this is the choice before you. This is the decision that you must make.”
Obama is attending the two-day Nuclear Security Summit in Seoul. Chinese President Hu Jintao and other world leaders are gathered in South Korea to discuss ways of improving nuclear security and to hold bilateral summit talks on the sidelines. North Korea and Iran are expected to dominate the nuclear agenda at the summit.
After a meeting between Obama and Hu, senior White House aide Ben Rhodes said the Chinese leader indicated to his U.S. counterpart that he took the North Korean nuclear standoff very seriously and was registering his concern with Pyongyang.
“The two leaders agreed to coordinate closely in responding to this potential provocation and registering our serious concern to the North Koreans and, if necessary, consider what steps need to be taken following a potential satellite launch,” Rhodes said.
Wendell Minnick reported from Taipei.