S. Korean defense minister says Korean military conducted joint missile defense exercises with US

Posted on : 2020-06-11 15:44 KST Modified on : 2020-06-11 15:44 KST
Observers speculate over S. Korea’s integration into US-led missile defense framework
The US’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province. (Baek So-ah, staff photographer)
The US’ Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province. (Baek So-ah, staff photographer)

On June 10, Minister of National Defense Jeong Kyeong-doo announced that South Korean and US military authorities had conducted joint missile defense exercises. His remarks are now showing signs of reigniting the debate over South Korea’s incorporation into the US-led missile defense framework.

Speaking in reference to the South Korea-US allied defense posture at a meeting of major armed forces commanders at the Ministry of National Defense (MND) complex that day, Jeong said the two sides had “conducted a joint South Korea-US Air Force combat readiness posture drill and missile defense system integration exercise, as planned in the first half of this year.”

Joint missile defense system integration exercise made public for first time

While South Korea, the US, and Japan have disclosed a number of times in the past when they have conducted warning exercises involving the deployment of naval Aegis vessels to exchange North Korean missile detection and tracking information, this is the first time a South Korea-US missile defense system integration exercise has been made public. The exercises have reportedly been conducted on a regular basis for the past several years.

Military authorities were emphatic in stressing that the missile defense system integration exercise was merely a drill to share missile information between the two sides under a hypothetical North Korean missile launch scenario, and that it had nothing to do with South Korea being incorporated into the US-led missile defense framework. They explained that while the two sides share data on the flight positions, altitude, and speed of North Korean missiles that have been launched, each of them has its own means of actual missile interception -- Patriot missiles in the South Korean military’s case, Patriot missile and the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the US’.

US Forces Korea transports what’s assumed to be equipment for the THAAD system into Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, on May 29. (provided by No THAAD)
US Forces Korea transports what’s assumed to be equipment for the THAAD system into Seongju, North Gyeongsang Province, on May 29. (provided by No THAAD)

The sharing of missile information is reportedly taking place through an interlinked system between the South Korean military’s ballistic missile command and control center (AMD-cell) and US Forces Korea’s missile defense operation and control center (TMD-cell). But with the USFK operation and control center also linked to US Forces Japan’s missile defense system through the US Indo-Pacific Command, some observers are maintaining that this translates into an effective linkage with the Japan Self-Defense Forces’ missile defense system too. On this basis, they are suggesting that South Korea’s missile defense system is functioning as a lower-level system within the US’ missile defense framework.

In response, a South Korean military official said, “It’s mere speculation to interpret the simple sharing of information as meaning we are being incorporated into US-led missile defense.”

By Park Byong-su, senior staff writer

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