South Korea and Japan will join the United States in a joint missile defense exercise on or around June 28 off the coast of Hawaii, The Korea Herald reports.
This is the first joint military training exercise involving the three countries focused on tracking and defending against North Korean missile launches and will take place on the sidelines of RIMPAC, the world’s largest international maritime warfare exercise held biennially in June and August on even numbered years.
The naval drill is administered by the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Fleet, headquartered at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, and other U.S. government entities including the U.S. Marine Corps.
“South Korea, U.S. and Japan have held joint search and rescue drills numerous times in the past, but this marks the first time we hold a missile warning exercise,” a high-ranking official of Seoul’s Defense Ministry told The Korea Herald. “The drill is confined to the framework of the trilateral information sharing pact (on Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile capabilities) and is not a strategic exercise.”
“One Aegis-level vessel from each country,” will participate in the drill a South Korean defense official told CNN, which will involve “detecting and tracing a hypothetical North Korean missile.” However, it will not involve the interception of the missile. (A military fighter jet will stand in for the missile.)
The exercise will focus on acquiring and sharing intelligence between the three countries “because of the limitations of the information-sharing pact,” a South Korean defense official said. South Korea, Japan and the United States signed an intelligence-gathering pact in 2014 to respond to North Korea’s growing missile threat.
“To hold such drills has been decided to better defend South Korea from ever-increasing nuclear and missile threats from North Korea and detailed plans have been worked out,” the South Korean defense official said. However, the South Korean defense ministry emphasized that the drill will have “nothing to do with any country’s missile defense program.”
China is opposing the the deployment of the so-called U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system to South Korea and is particularly worried about a surreptitious deployment of the missile defense system on the Korean peninsula, as I reported previously:
China sees the deployment of THAAD as an outright provocation not only designed to thwart North Korea’s missiles but also its own military power. “We are firmly opposed to the deployment of the THAAD system on the Korean Peninsula and urge relevant parties to act cautiously. No harm shall be done to China’s strategic security interests,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesperson said in March 2016.
“Deploying THAAD should be strictly from the point on whether or not THAAD is necessary to protect our country. But if China views THAAD from a perspective that is beyond military technology (from an international politics point of view), then it becomes a matter of our sovereignty and basic rights,” South Korean Defense Minister Han Min-koo said in a recent interview.