As North Korea’s tough talk and threats continue to raise tensions throughout East Asia and around the world, the United States is deploying a sea-based radar platform closer to the hermit kingdom and sending a naval vessel armed with the AEGIS sea-based missile defense system to Korean waters.
The Sea-Based X-Band Radar (SBX-1) is a floating platform which has the ability to search and track airborne targets, communicating with interceptors that shoot down a target missile. The system has a range of 2,000-5,000km, is self-propelled and somewhat resembles the shape an oil rig.
The U.S. has fielded a land-based form of the X-Band Radar in Japan since 2006. Last year Japan and the U.S. announced Washington would be installing a second radar system in Japan to monitor missile launches in the region. However, the second system will not be functional for at least a few months.
Yesterday, Pentagon spokesman George Little cautioned against connecting the deployment of the missile destroyer to recent provocations.
"I would urge everyone to disconnect this ship deployment from recent military exercises in South Korea. We have regular ship movements in the Asia-Pacific region and we use our ship movements for any number of purposes," he explained to CNN's Christiane Amanpour.
At the same time, the U.S. previously deployed the missile destroyer to the Korean coast in the run-up to North Korea’s December 2012 missile test.
These latest moves by U.S. forces are seemingly meant as a show of strength and a way to reassure allies and partners in the region. Such deployments also enhance the protection of American bases and personnel in East Asia.
Several weeks ago, American B-52’s participated in military exercises in what seemed like a signal to North Korea. Last week, two advanced American B-2 stealth bombers flew from bases in Missouri to South Korea to participate in long-range bombing exercises in South Korea. Over the last several days, reports have noted that 5th generation F-22 Raptor fighter jets where on “static display” in South Korea. The jets arrived in South Korea from Kadena Air Force base in Japan but have yet to take part in planned military exercises. According to Pentagon Spokesman George Little sending the F-22 is “all about alliance assurance.”
At the same time the White House downplayed the severity of the situation in East Asia by stressing “disconnect” the rhetoric emanating from North Korea and its actions on the ground.
North Korea’s rhetoric this week has so far sent conflicting messages. On the one hand, on Monday Kim Jong-Un convened the Parliament and seemed to shift attention away from the external situation and towards building North Korea's economy. At the same time, Pyongyang has also announced plans to rebuild a 5MW plutonium reactor at its Yongbyon nuclear complex, which it shut down in 2007 after talks with international and regional powers. At full capacity the reactor is believed to be capable of producing one bomb’s worth of fissile material annually.
Meanwhile other parties have entered the fray this week as well. United Nations Secretary General noted that current tensions had “gone too far.”
“Nuclear threats are not a game. Aggressive rhetoric and military posturing only result in counter-actions, and fuel fear and instability" he explained at a news conference in Andorra.
Meanwhile U.S. defense officials reportedly claim that China has been mobilizing troops near the North Korean border and has put some PLA units at a heightened level of alert.