Can interception systems alone deal with Pyongyang’s missile capabilities?

North Korea’s missile attack capability may have reached a point where it is difficult for Japan, the United States and South Korea to respond with their interception systems alone. The three countries must urgently strengthen their deterrence capabilities, including counterattack capabilities.

North Korea on Sunday carried out its 17th round of missile firings this year. According to the South Korean military, eight short-range ballistic missiles were fired into the Sea of Japan from four locations, including the Sunan area in Pyongyang, over a period of about 35 minutes. Some of the missiles flew on irregular trajectories, it said.

It is unusual for North Korea to launch several missiles from multiple locations in a short period of time. It is likely that North Korea intended to show off its ability to strike targets across several locations simultaneously.

Japan deploys a two-tiered missile defense system against North Korean ballistic missiles, with interceptor missiles from Aegis-equipped destroyers to shoot them down outside the atmosphere and surface-to-air guided missiles to intercept ones that the Aegis destroyers’ interceptor missiles failed to hit.

However, it would be difficult to intercept every missile in a volley like the one seen on Sunday. North Korea is also attempting to evade the defense network by repeatedly firing missiles with “lofted trajectories,” launched at a higher angle than normal, as well as new missiles that fly on irregular trajectories.

There is a limit to what the existing missile defense systems can do in response to the growing threat. There is an urgent need to build a system that meets the harsh realities of the situation. For its self-defense, Japan needs to accelerate building a counterattack capability to destroy enemy missile launch sites and other facilities.

As a countermeasure, U.S. and South Korean forces on Monday fired eight surface-to-surface missiles into the Sea of Japan over a period of about 10 minutes.

It is only natural that the U.S. and South Korean sides demonstrated what is described as “the capability and posture to launch immediate precision strikes on the origins of provocations and their command and support forces” in contemplation of a scenario in which North Korea launches missiles from many locations.

In recent years, the South Korean military has been building the capability to destroy North Korea’s nuclear and missile-related facilities in the event of a contingency. It now possesses more than 1,000 ballistic and cruise missiles.

Making Pyongyang recognize that it will surely face counterattacks if it engages in attacks will serve as a deterrent to North Korea. It is important for Japan, the United States and South Korea to take firm and unified measures.

North Korea has repeatedly launched ballistic missiles, which are banned under U.N. Security Council resolutions. Even so, China and Russia came to North Korea’s defense last month by vetoing a Security Council resolution that would have strengthened sanctions on North Korea.

Such actions by both China and Russia have contributed to North Korea’s outrageous acts. Both countries should be held responsible for the escalation of tensions in the region.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, June 7, 2022)