By Lee Tae-hoon
The military is mulling ordering the deployment of missile interceptors to shoot down any debris that could fall on South Korean territory in the event that a satellite bearing North Korean rocket strays from its planned trajectory.
The Stalinist regime recently announced that it would launch a satellite from a long-range rocket sometime between April 12 and 16 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the April 15 birth of its founder Kim Il-sung.
“We are preparing measures to track the missile's trajectory and shoot it down if by any chance it deviates from the planned route and falls into our territory,” said Col. Yoon Won-shik, a vice spokesman at the Ministry of National Defense.
“The launch will be a very reckless, provocative act that undermines peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
The remarks were made amid growing concern that the first stage of the rocket, scheduled to drop into the West Sea between South Korea and China, may fall onto the South’s territory, possibly in a heavily populated area.
He noted that the military would only prepare for the possible fall of parts as it is impossible for interceptors to shoot down a rocket flying at an altitude of more than 200 kilometers over South Korean territory.
“The Army will have no choice but do its best to intercept parts of the rocket with PAC-2 Patriot missiles if they fly too close to the South's territory,” Yoon said.
The PAC-2’s range is 70 kilometers. It is only capable of shooting down targets flying at an altitude of up to 20 kilometers.
In 2007, the South Korean military purchased 48 secondhand Patriot Advanced Capability-2 (PAC-2) systems from Germany but their ability to intercept North Korean missiles is limited as it is optimized primarily for engagements against aircraft with limited capability to deter missiles.
The PAC-2 interceptor is designed to maneuver close to the incoming target and detonate its explosive fragmentation warhead.
Sources say that the Navy also plans to deploy two destroyers armed with SM-2 ship-to-air missiles with a range of 170 kilometers to the West Sea track the North's rocket and shoot the rocket stages down if necessary.
Experts, however, point out that the current technology only allows interceptors, including the latest models as the SM-3 and THAAD, to shoot down enemy missiles after the latter reaches apogee (peak altitude).
The U.N. Security Council condemned North Korea's last long-range rocket launch in 2009. Pyongyang responded by abandoning six-nation nuclear disarmament talks and, weeks later, carrying out its second nuclear test.
The United States and other nations say Pyongyang’s planned satellite launch is a disguised missile test and a clear violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1874, which bans any launch using ballistic missile technology.