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Gsomia’s end worries a more vulnerable Japan

Sept 24,2019
Japan is increasingly concerned about South Korea’s plan to terminate their bilateral intelligence-sharing pact in November, especially as it could impact Tokyo’s ability to track Pyongyang’s missile launches.

Last month, Seoul announced its decision not to renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement (Gsomia) with Tokyo, which allows for the direct and seamless sharing of sensitive security information between the two countries.

Japan is finding that it cannot ignore South Korea’s abilities in detecting North Korea’s missile launches, especially after its military failed to detect the launch of projectiles by the North on a few occasions.

Citing sources familiar with the matter, Japan’s Kyodo News reported Monday that since May, North Korea tested short-range missiles 10 times, but Tokyo failed to track the trajectory of the launches at least twice, raising concerns over Japanese defense capabilities.

This included the ability to track North Korea’s new KN-23 short-range ballistic missiles.

The KN-23 is believed to be a North Korean variant of the Russian-made Iskander missile system and is seen to be akin to the U.S. MGM-140 Army Tactical Missile System. Compared to South Korea, Japan has superior reconnaissance and surveillance assets. It has nine reconnaissance satellites, while Korea has none.

South Korea has an advantage in detecting missile launches by North Korea because of its location.

All 10 tests conducted by North Korea between May 4 and Sept. 10 were in the direction of the East Sea. Eight of the 10 launches are believed by the Korean Defense Ministry to have involved KN-23s.

Kyodo reported that the Japanese government is “increasingly concerned” over North Korea’s progress in missile technology, as some of the latest launches escaped detection by Japan apparently because of their low altitudes and irregular trajectories.

The North’s launches over the last five months flew below the altitude of 60 kilometers (37.2 miles), and some of them escaped detection by the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s Aegis-equipped destroyer and its Air Self-Defense Force radar, according to the sources.

The launches Japan failed to track were successfully detected by the South Korean military.

Tokyo’s failure to detect North Korea’s missiles at an early stage, which may be able to reach Japanese territory, would make it difficult to intercept them and take swift countermeasures.

The upcoming termination of the Gsomia with Seoul is adding to Tokyo’s concerns.

The South Korean National Security Council on Aug. 23 announced its decision not to renew Gsomia, which was first signed in November 2016 and renewed annually unless one side informs the other 90 days in advance of plans to end the deal. The Gsomia is set to expire on Nov. 23.

Seoul’s decision comes amid Tokyo’s implementation of export restrictions and the removal of South Korea from its so-called white list of trusted trade partners, seen widely as retaliation against the Korean Supreme Court’s rulings last year ordering Japanese companies to compensate victims of forced labor during World War II. Tokyo has claimed its export restrictions are due to a lack of “trust” between the two countries, and Seoul in turn determined that it is not in its “national interest” to continue to share sensitive military information under such circumstances.

Sources told Kyodo that Japan may operate additional Aegis-equipped destroyers to monitor low altitudes and strengthen their radar capabilities.

Tokyo views North Korea’s KN-23 missiles, seen to have a range of some 600 kilometers, as a threat as it can target the U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni, southern Japan, where American F-35B stealth fighters are deployed. The KN-23s have irregular trajectories and the ability to perform a pull-up maneuver in the dive phase, which makes it harder for antimissile systems to detect and intercept.

The initial launch must be detected quickly in order to determine its trajectory.

BY LEE CHUL-JAE, SARAH KIM [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]