U.S., Allies Agree to Further Study Intel Swaps on North Korea Missiles

U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel meets with South Korean Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, right, and Japanese Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera, center, on Saturday in Singapore. The three defense chiefs agreed to hold future talks on three-way information sharing about North Korea's missile program.
National Journal
Rachel Oswald
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Rachel Oswald
June 2, 2014, 11:02 a.m.

The United States and its East Asia al­lies on Sat­urday agreed to fur­ther study pos­sible tri­lat­er­al in­form­a­tion ex­changes about the North Korean mis­sile threat.

The heads of de­fense for Wash­ing­ton, Seoul and Tokyo dur­ing a three-way dis­cus­sion in Singa­pore “re­af­firmed the im­port­ance of in­form­a­tion shar­ing on North Korea nuc­le­ar and mis­sile threats and shared an un­der­stand­ing that this is­sue needs to be re­viewed fur­ther,” says a joint state­ment re­leased after the meet­ing.

No men­tion was made in the state­ment from U.S. De­fense Sec­ret­ary Chuck Hagel, Ja­pan­ese De­fense Min­is­ter It­sun­ori Onodera and South Korean De­fense Min­is­ter Kim Kwan-jin about an of­fi­cial agree­ment be­ing reached that would en­able the dir­ect shar­ing between Ja­pan and South Korea of sensor data re­lated to North Korean mis­sile launches. Such a pact was earli­er en­vi­sioned to res­ult from the sit-down, which happened on the mar­gins of the an­nu­al Shangri-La Dia­logue in Singa­pore.

Patrick Cronin, seni­or dir­ect­or of the Asia-Pa­cific Se­cur­ity Pro­gram at the Cen­ter for a New Amer­ic­an Se­cur­ity, said that des­pite the lack of a big com­mit­ment in the joint state­ment, Sat­urday’s dis­cus­sion ac­tu­ally did pro­duce a sig­ni­fic­ant break­through in U.S. ef­forts to boost re­gion­al mis­sile de­fense co­oper­a­tion.

The newly reached un­der­stand­ing de­scribed in the joint state­ment only cov­ers in­form­a­tion shar­ing re­lated to the North, something that ap­peases Seoul, he said in a Monday phone in­ter­view. An earli­er Ja­pan-South Korea draft deal on in­tel­li­gence shar­ing foundered two years ago in part over Tokyo’s de­sire to ex­change in­form­a­tion about both North Korean and Chinese mis­sile threats, ac­cord­ing to Cronin.

And Ja­pan achieved its goal of get­ting the is­sue of in­tel­li­gence co­oper­a­tion with the South back on the re­gion­al agenda, Cronin said.

“So they each got something,” he ad­ded, not­ing that any form­al in­form­a­tion-shar­ing agree­ment would still be sub­jec­ted to le­gis­lat­ive ap­prov­al in the East Asi­an coun­tries.

Cur­rently, there are bi­lat­er­al in­form­a­tion-ex­change agree­ments in place between the United States and Ja­pan, and between the United States and South Korea.

This has cre­ated a “bit of a hub-and-spoke mod­el, with the U.S. in the middle talk­ing to the Ja­pan­ese on one side, talk­ing to the Koreans on the oth­er,” said an uniden­ti­fied seni­or De­fense De­part­ment of­fi­cial ac­com­pa­ny­ing Hagel on his trip to Singa­pore in a brief­ing with journ­al­ists.

South Korea is build­ing a do­mest­ic an­ti­mis­sile frame­work — the Korea Air and Mis­sile De­fense sys­tem — that will in­volve up­dated Pat­ri­ot Ad­vanced Cap­ab­il­ity 2 and PAC-3 in­ter­cept­ors aimed at de­fend­ing against a lower-tiered mis­sile strike launched by the North.

“That makes sense, you know, for where they sit right now,” the un­named Pentagon of­fi­cial said. “But the key is to get it in­ter­op­er­able and in­teg­rated in­to one sys­tem that is [as] ef­fect­ive as pos­sible.”

In the case of East Asia an­ti­mis­sile co­oper­a­tion, “in­ter­op­er­able” refers to the abil­ity of dif­fer­ent sys­tems to pass do­main aware­ness data to one an­oth­er, in­clud­ing pos­sible real-time in­form­a­tion, Cronin said. Sys­tem “in­teg­ra­tion” goes bey­ond that, by en­abling sep­ar­ate tech­no­lo­gies to work to­geth­er to for­mu­late an “in­stant­an­eous” in­ter­cept plan in re­sponse to a de­tec­ted mis­sile fir­ing.

While the South ap­pears to be “will­ing to go along” with the goal of achiev­ing sys­tem in­ter­op­er­ab­il­ity with Ja­pan and the United States, for now “they are not will­ing to have a per­man­ently fixed, in­teg­rated early-warn­ing and shoot-to-kill mis­sile sys­tem” with the two coun­tries, Cronin said.

U.S. an­ti­mis­sile co­oper­a­tion with Ja­pan, mean­while, is already fur­ther along.

The United States is sched­uled by the end of the year to de­ploy the second of two early-warn­ing radars on Ja­pan­ese ter­rit­ory and is slated by 2017 to re­deploy two more Ae­gis-equipped war­ships to the is­land coun­try.

While Seoul has de­cided against pur­chas­ing Ae­gis mis­sile in­ter­cept­ors that could be used against high­er-alti­tude threats, Tokyo has its own Ae­gis fleet. Ad­di­tion­ally, Ja­pan­ese firms are col­lab­or­at­ing with U.S. de­fense com­pan­ies to pro­duce a next-gen­er­a­tion Stand­ard Mis­sile 3 in­ter­cept­or de­ploy­able both on Ae­gis ves­sels at sea and on land.

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