Thursday, October 8, 2009

Japanese Monitoring Sites Keep Eye on North Korea

Defense News


Japanese Monitoring Sites Keep Eye on North Korea

By Wendell Minnick

TAIPEI - Japan has an extensive intelligence and surveillance monitoring system keeping track of North Korea on the eve of its announced missile launch.

Pyongyang is preparing a test-launch of a so-called "space launch vehicle" believed to be a modified variant of the three-stage Taepodong-2 intercontinental ballistic missile. Tokyo will have to decide whether the missile poses a threat to Japanese territory and issue the command to military units to shoot it down.

Japan has both the Standard Missile 3 (SM-3) air defense system deployed on its Aegis-equipped destroyers and the Patriot PAC-3 air defense system. These systems are backed by an elaborate signal intelligence (SigInt) and radar surveillance system.

The main Japanese SigInt station for monitoring North Korea is at Miho, near Yonago, Tottori Prefecture, on the Shimane Peninsula on the southwestern coast, said Desmond Ball, a SigInt specialist at the Australian National University.

The Miho SigInt station is a round "elephant cage" configuration, 482 feet across, and can be viewed on Google Earth at 35°30'40.16"N at 133°13'22.40"E.

"A second SigInt station, at Tachiarai, on Kyushu, is also used," he said.

Ball said Japan operates a diverse collection of radar sites used for tracking, including the "BADGE [Base Air Defense Ground Environment] radar stations at Takao-yama [near Miho] and Wajima."

He also said that in the mid-1990s, the Japanese "put a new SigInt unit at the BADGE station on the top of Takao-yama," which followed the 1993 North Korean launch of a Nodong-1. It was "probably established for telemetry interception regarding future North Korean missile launches," he said.

BADGE is operated by the Japanese Air Force's Air Defense Command, Tokyo, and integrates 28 radar facilities across Japan.

The Japanese Air Force now has a "prototype J/FPS-5 radar at Chiba [near Tokyo] for tracking ballistic missiles, and the first operational J/FPS-5 at Shimokoshiki-shima [island] in Kagoshima Prefecture, which only just became operational," he said.

Ball said the U.S. also has a new tracking station at Shariki on the northwestern coast of Honshu.

These sites have largely been the product of fears of North Korean missile and nuclear weapon development.

In 1990 and 1993, North Korea launched two Nodong-1 missiles. In 1993, the U.S. and Japan created the Theater Missile Defense Working Group under the Security Consultative Committee. In 1998, North Korea launched a Taepodong-1 ballistic missile that flew over Japan before landing in the Pacific Ocean. In July 2006, North Korea launched seven missiles, including a Taepodong-2 that failed 40 seconds after launch. In October 2006, North Korea tested a low-yield nuclear device.