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Japan, South Korea, U.S. exercises bolster missile defenses amid Pyongyang’s provocations

Felix Kim

Upcoming missile detection and warning exercises involving Japan, South Korea and the United States will strengthen the countries’ defenses against North Korean missile threats and help deter Pyongyang’s provocations, officials and experts said.

The enhanced trilateral exercises, first held in 2016, demonstrate the robustness of the U.S.’s separate alliances with Japan and South Korea, and the importance of defense ties between Seoul and Tokyo.

“There is a common threat shared between South Korea, the United States and Japan: North Korean missiles,” Park Yong-han, an associate research fellow at the Center for Security and Strategy of the government-funded Korea Institute for Defense Analyses, told FORUM.

North Korea had conducted about 15 missile test launches in 2022 as of late June, according to Reuters.

Pyongyang’s development of hypersonic missiles, which can evade detection better than conventional missiles, is escalating the threat to the region, Park said.

“In the event of a war, Japan would also feel threatened in that it could fall into North Korea’s strike zone,” he said. “Therefore, the North Korean missile threat is common for the three countries, and they eventually need mutual cooperation.”

The U.S. has about 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea and more than 50,000 in Japan. Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup and U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin announced the trilateral missile warning and ballistic missile search-and-tracking exercises in a joint statement after their mid-June 2022 meeting in Singapore. (Pictured, from left: Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi, U.S. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin and South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup meet in Singapore in June 2022.)

The Pacific Dragon missile detection and tracking drills will be held in August 2022 in conjunction with the multilateral Rim of the Pacific maritime exercises around the Hawaiian Islands, South Korea’s Defense Ministry reported in a news release. Trilateral missile warning drills are expected to take place later in 2022.

During Pacific Dragon, naval vessels from each nation will use the Aegis missile defense system to detect, identify and track a simulated ballistic missile launched from land without warning. Data collected during the exercise is shared among the participating forces, Park said.

The missile warning training will use computer simulation, according to Seoul’s Defense Ministry.

In their Singapore statement, the three defense leaders underscored the importance of working together to address the threat of North Korean missiles. Separately, Kishi told reporters in Tokyo in mid-June 2022 that his ministry “will continue to work closely with the United States and South Korea on the military trends of North Korea to collect and analyze necessary information and to monitor alerts.”

While bolstering each country’s missile defenses, the forthcoming exercises could also strengthen bonds between Seoul and Tokyo, Park said.

“In principle, South Korea, the United States and Japan have continued to develop security cooperation over the past decades,” he said. “Such trilateral military training could offer an opportunity for South Korea and Japan to solidify their trust-building. Throughout the process, the Republic of Korea-U.S. alliance, the U.S.-Japan alliance and cooperative relations between the three nations can be further developed.”


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