This morning the grand daddy of web news, the Drudge Report, carried the story of a possibility of Japan using it’s ballistic missile defense (BMD) weapons to intercept and destroy the upcoming North Korean launch of a Taepodong-2 rocket. This story is published by the UK Guardian and quotes Takeo Kawamura, the chief cabinet secretary of Japan as saying:
Under our law, we can intercept any object if it is falling towards Japan, including any attacks on Japan, for our security
As discussed on this weblog before, we have always considered the possibility of Japan “taking the shot” should the North fire one of their somewhat ridiculous rockets down range towards Japan.
Possible shooters in a Japanese intercept of North Korean rocket
Anatomy of a Japanese Intercept
In the graphic above, I have attempted to diagram the likely participants in any intercept of the Taepodong-2 launch, focusing on a Japanese Self Defense Forces lead role. The blue dots represent assets capable of taking the shot, with rings showing the nominal engagement range of the weapons. The red dot represents the North Korean launch site, with the wide red lines representing the announced flight path and the prior flight path of the Taepodong-2.
JSD Kongo underway
Foremost in this line up is one or several of Japan’s Aegis destroyers, lead by the JDS Kongo. Kongo is credible threat for a North Korean intercept. In December 2007, during a joint US-Japanese exercise, the Kongo successfully tracked, engaged and destroyed a theater ballistic missile fired from the U.S. Navy’s Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai, Hawaii using a Raytheon Standard-3 Aegis missile. In other words, it’s already done this on the practice field, and scored a kill. Kongo is currently sailing with the fleet forces of the ongoing exercise Foal Eagle being conducted in the sea of Japan. The likely scenario should Japan decide to intercept would use a SM-3 missile during the Taepodong-2′s initial ascent phase, when it is moving at its slowest, and will fall over water rather than Japan.
Also of note are the Patriot-3 batteries employed by the Japanese forces. These are the same intercept missiles that were so famous during the first gulf war for being able to knock Iraqi SCUDs out of the sky. the Patriot-3 is a greatly enhanced system capable of engaging faster moving and higher altitude targets. The first battery is located in the north of Japan at Misawa Air Base. The announced flight path falls within the engagement range of the Patriot-3, though at this point the missile will be moving very fast and (as long as the rocket is working) at high altitude.
Should the launch follow the same path as the prior Taepodong-2 launch, the second battery at Camp Narashino outside of Tokyo will also have the opportunity to take a shot, should Japan decide to try an intercept.
US Role in a Japanese Intercept
Though the current meme is that this would be a Japanese operation, there would be a significant role played by US forces in any intercept. This would include detection of the launch by US satellites from the DSP series satellite, a geosynchronous reconnaissance bird built to detect missile launches from Russia, China or even North Korea. DSP satellites were in part responsible for cueing the Patriot batteries during the first gulf war, and played a large role in their success.
Further support will include integrated command and control from a variety of coalition systems including NORAD, and likely support in fixing and tracking the North Korean launch from assets based in South Korean (Osan AFB) and overhead such as the RC-135 Cobra Ball
Geo-Political Impact of a Japanese Intercept
The geo-political ramifications of a Japanese intercept would be enormous. Japan right now amounts to a sleeping giant of the east. For more than 60 years Japan has worked hard to embrace a pacifist culture. This was to the benefit of the entire world, as Japan has historically been very successful at repeatedly conquering any nation or kingdom it felt like in the region. Japan’s focus on non-military achievements has been a driving force in the recent era of prosperity and technological advancement the world has enjoyed.
As is frequently the case in world history, it only takes one jerk to ruin a good thing. In the case a resurgent China and an increasingly belligerent North Korea has forced Japan to face the fact that no one is ever going to defend them as well as they will defend themselves. Because China has failed to contain the NORKs, Japan could be firmly placed on the path towards a re-awakinging of their Bushido tradition. The global winds of protectionism and nationalism could blow fiercely in Japan, resulting in an effort to stimulate their economy through expanded military spending and enlistment.