The military is developing an exclusive operational control tower by 2012 to detect and shoot down North Korean missiles, Defense Ministry officials said yesterday.
The anti-missile defense system — also known as the AMD-Cell — is a 300 billion won ($213 million) project that would hand Seoul an independent system for defending against missiles from the North.
Intelligence sources have said Pyongyang is preparing for a test launch of the Taepodong-2, a long-range ballistic missile considered capable of reaching the western coast of the United States.
Though many are skeptical that the North would actually fire a missile towards the United States, the test-fire may occur in the next few weeks, which are packed with events significant to the North.
Today is North Korean leader Kim Jong-il’s birthday, while on Thursday, U.S. Secretary of State Hilary Clinton will be here as part of her Asian tour. Later this month, South Korea’s Lee Myung-bak administration will celebrate its first year in office.
Washington is now taking measures in response to the North’s saber-rattling. Defense Minister Robert Gates recently said the United States would shoot down any missile Pyongyang fires toward it.
The Sankei Shimbun yesterday reported that the United States flew two RC 135S Cobra Ball reconnaissance aircraft to its Okinawa base in Japan on Friday to keep an eye on North Korea’s missile launch preparations.
Seoul’s aims to form a self-reliant defense system against North Korean missiles were first officially launched in 2006.
“When the control tower is completed, it may even collaborate with the anti-theater missile team operated independently by the United States Armed Forces to defend against and shoot down theater missiles,” one military source said anonymously.
There are currently 28,500 American troops stationed here as a war deterrent.
The control tower will operate in tandem with an early warning radar and the patriot missile, officials explained.
The early warning radar has a surveillance range of 400-1,000 kilometers. It is expected to be able to detect the movement of both short- and long-distance missiles such as the Taepodong-2.
What the radar would do is to calculate the flight direction and potential impact point, and deliver this information to the AMD-Cell and patriot missile divisions.
Seoul plans to secure the early warning radar by next year. It also will have received all 48 patriot missiles from Germany by the end of this year to strike down North Korean missiles with the information provided by radar.
In addition to the missile launch preparations, Pyongyang has threatened military action along the Northern Limit Line, the de facto inter-Korean maritime border. The North has recently been stepping up military training at the NLL, according to defense officials here.
Seoul also has been raising the level of surveillance and keeping its military alert for possible emergencies.
Most experts believe Pyongyang’s tactics are aimed at gaining leverage over the Barack Obama administration in upcoming denuclearization talks, as well as to press Seoul into rethinking its departure from past engagement policies.
Source: The Korea Herald