North Korea’s weekend missile launches show the country is improving its capability and accuracy and are a cause for concern, officials said yesterday.
North Korea launched seven ballistic missiles into waters off its east coast on Saturday in a show of military firepower that defied UN resolutions and drew international condemnation and concern. It also fired four short-range missiles on Thursday believed to be cruise missiles.
South Korea’s Yonhap news agency — citing a South Korean government source it did not identify — reported that five of the seven ballistic missiles landed in the same area, indicating their accuracy has improved.
Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said North Korea’s capabilities were getting better.
“If you look at their most recent efforts, the most worrying thing is not their current capacity in terms of distance or scope, but how they have improved,” Smith told Nine Network yesterday.
“We have seen improvements regrettably in their technology and their approach,” he said, emphasizing the latest missile tests were clearly a provocative act aimed at the US.
Saturday’s launches on US Independence Day appeared to be a slap at Washington as it moves to enforce UN as well as its own sanctions against the isolated regime for its May 25 nuclear test.
An South Korean official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the Defense Ministry was investigating the launches and it would take about a week to complete an analysis.
He also said no signs of additional missile launches had been detected, but more were possible given North Korea warned ships to stay away from the area until Friday.
South Korea said on Saturday that the missiles likely flew more than 400km, apparently landing in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
In related news, Japan is considering introducing a new type of missile defense system to counter airborne attacks, a local newspaper said yesterday.
Japan has two types of defense against airborne attacks — the warship-installed Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) and Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3), a surface-to-air missile that tracks and hits incoming targets.
It plans to complete the shield by early 2011, deploying the PAC-3 missiles at 11 bases and setting up SM-3 missiles on several warships, but the two systems still will not be enough to cover the nation’s territory completely, the Mainichi Shimbun said, without citing sources.
The Japanese defense ministry is considering introducing another surface-to-air missile, the US-developed Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system, in addition to SM-3 and PAC-3, the newspaper said.
While the PAC-3 has a range of about 20km, a THAAD interceptor can cover more than 100km, making it possible to defend the entire nation if deployed at three to four bases, the report said.