Consider counterattack capabilities to defend against N. Korea’s missiles

North Korea is attempting to improve its missile capabilities by repeatedly launching upgraded missiles. Japan should urgently consider possessing counterattack capabilities as a means of discouraging North Korea from attacking.

North Korea has launched missiles four times in the past two weeks. All of them were ballistic missile launches in breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Such moves are a threat to peace and security in the region.

The Security Council should have acted to increase pressure on North Korea, but due to opposition from China and Russia, which have veto power, it has taken no action. China and Russia bear a heavy responsibility for tolerating North Korea’s outrageous behavior.

Particular vigilance must be paid to the hypersonic missiles that North Korea said it launched on Jan. 5 and 11. Unlike conventional ballistic missiles, which have a parabolic trajectory, these missiles fly at higher speeds on irregular trajectories and at low altitudes, making them more difficult to detect and intercept.

The missile launched on Jan. 11 is believed to have flown more than 700 kilometers, demonstrating that parts of Japan are within its range. The short-range ballistic missiles launched on Jan. 14 and 17 are also considered to be new types with irregular trajectories. The missiles on Jan. 14 were launched from a train.

It is clear that North Korea is attempting to develop and possess various types of missiles and launch modes to improve its ability to launch surprise attacks and strike accuracy.

In contrast, Japan’s missile defense system has been developed on the assumption of being attacked by conventional ballistic missiles. Under the existing system, interceptor missiles from Aegis-equipped destroyers would be used to shoot down incoming missiles outside the atmosphere, and if they miss, surface-to-air guided missiles would be used.

As it stands, the current system is not able to cope with the growing threat from North Korea.

Concerns about hypersonic missiles were also raised this month during a Japan-U.S. Security Consultative Committee meeting of foreign and defense chiefs, also known as the 2-plus-2.

Japan and the United States are said to be starting a joint study of countermeasures against hypersonic missiles, with a new missile defense system concept in mind, in which a constellation of small satellites deployed in space would share data to track and intercept missiles. Every effort must be made to develop this system as soon as possible.

Even if the existing missile defense network was able to intercept the first missile, it would be difficult to respond if the attack continued. There is an urgent need to drastically improve the ability to deter attacks.

If an enemy launches a missile attack, Japan can counterattack missile launch bases and other related military facilities as the minimum necessary measure to stop the attack, which is within the scope of the right of self-defense under the Constitution.

The government needs to quickly present an effective concept and equipment for counterattack capabilities against enemy bases and other facilities.

— The original Japanese article appeared in The Yomiuri Shimbun on Jan. 19, 2022.