Aegis Destroyer Sejong the Great
By Jung Sung-ki
The South Korean Navy's high-tech Aegis-equipped destroyer has been hit with a software glitch to its missile tracking radar system, a military source said Wednesday.
The blow comes amid expectations that North Korea will test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) in the coming weeks.
It remains to be seen whether or not the 7,600-ton Sejong the Great destroyer will be able to conduct missile detection and tracking operations against the possible ICBM test-firing, said the source close to the Navy's operational planning team.
The KDX-III destroyer, commissioned last December, is now at the Naval Logistics Command in Jinhae, South Gyeongsang Province, for maintenance on a data transmission error, he said.
However, a Navy spokesman claimed the ongoing repair work is part of regular ship maintenance services and not because of a critical systems failure.
``A flaw in the data transmission system linked with the missile tracking radar in the Aegis destroyer was found. Engineers from the Navy and Lockheed Martin are trying to fix the problem and reconfigure the radar system,'' the source told The Korea Times on condition of anonymity.
``The Navy has actually not been able to test the Aegis radar's maximum capability so far due to the software glitch.''
Sejong the Great, the lead ship of the planned three KDX-III destroyers, is equipped with an Aegis Combat System built by U.S. Lockheed Martin.
The system is the world's premier fire-control system, capable of simultaneous operations against aircraft, ballistic and cruise missiles, ships and submarines. Only a few countries, such as the United States, Japan and Norway, operate Aegis warships.
The KDX-III destroyer's SPY-1D radar is one of the most up-to-date Aegis radar systems, capable of tracking some 1,000 aircraft within a 500-kilometer radius simultaneously, providing full 360-degree coverage.
Following its underground nuclear test May 25 and recent test-firings of short-range missiles, Pyongyang is preparing to test-launch a Taepodong-2 ballistic missile with a range of up to 6,700 kilometers at a new missile site on its west coast, according to intelligence authorities.
The communist state is expected to test-fire the missile as early as the middle of this month when the leaders of South Korea and the United States meet for a summit in Washington, a government source said.
A Navy spokesman confirmed the maintenance effort. He said the ship arrived at the logistics command on May 23 on a month-long maintenance program.
``We're not sure at the moment if Sejong the Great will be able to participate in detecting a North Korean ballistic missile this time,'' the spokesman said, asking not to be named.
Another Navy official said the current maintenance was aimed at ensuring the destroyer secures enough initial operational capabilities before reaching full capacity.
In light of the latest developments, an arms expert questioned the Navy's earlier claims that Sejong the Great demonstrated successful or even better performances than U.S. and Japanese Aegis warships in detecting and tracking a North Korean ``rocket'' launched April 5.
``I'm just wondering if Sejong the Great actually did that good a performance in April only four months after being commissioned with limited initial operational capabilities,'' the expert said. ``But now it's also ironic that the ship has been under repair at this critical time when the countdown to the North's ICBM firing is looming.''
Normally, it takes three to four years for an Aegis ship to secure substantial operational capabilities, he said, referring to the upgrade process for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force's Kongo class destroyers as a case in point.