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Japan wary DPRK may resume missile tests

  • February 8, 2021
  • , Sankei , p. 3
  • JMH Translation

The Ministry of Defense is on the lookout for signs that North Korea is resuming its ballistic missile tests. On Feb. 2 at the Ground Self-Defense Force’s Camp Kasugai (Kasugai, Aichi Prefecture), the Air Self-Defense Force conducted training for the mobile deployment of the Patriot Advanced Capability 3 (PAC-3) surface-to-air guided missile system, which intercepts incoming ballistic missiles during their terminal phase before landing. Biden intends to review his nation’s DPRK policy. Depending on the decisions made by the U.S. administration, this could increase the possibility of North Korea’s resuming test launches.


During a TV interview on Feb. 1, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the North Korean nuclear issue is “a problem that has gotten worse across administrations” and reiterated the Biden administration’s intention to overhaul the nation’s DPRK policy, including the possibility of imposing additional sanctions.


Since the U.S.-DPRK summit in June 2018, North Korea has not launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) or its equivalent. While test launches of short-range ballistic missiles resumed in May 2019, former U.S. President Donald Trump essentially turned a blind eye, stating that the two countries never agreed to restrict short-range missile tests.


North Korea has new types of short-range ballistic missiles that travel at low altitudes, and some of the missiles change their trajectory and travel steeply upward before landing. It is becoming difficult to intercept the new missiles with Japan’s current anti-ballistic missile system.


A new irregular-trajectory missile that may have been equipped with an extended range was seen at North Korea’s military parade on Jan. 14. The last time North Korea launched a new missile was in March 2020. “To date, North Korea has, without fail, tested every new missile that has appeared in a parade,” says a Japanese defense ministry official.


During their teleconference on Jan. 24, Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi and U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin affirmed that their two nations will work together for a complete, verifiable and irreversible dismantling of all of North Korea’s ballistic missiles of “all ranges.” A senior ministry official said, “It must have sent a strong signal to North Korea.”


Meanwhile, on Feb. 5,  “38 North,” which specializes in the analysis of North Korean issues, posted on its website satellite images taken on Jan. 30 of the Sohae Satellite Launching Station located in Tongchang-ri of the northwestern region of the DPRK. The images showed snow-removal work taking place at a feverish pace. Although the website pointed out the snow removal was slow around the launch pad and “there are no obvious indicators of a forthcoming launch or engine test,” 38 North nevertheless concluded that North Korea is preparing to resume operation of the facility.

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