US Sea-based Ballistic Missile Defense Drops Anchor Off North Korea

Steps continue in creating a ballistic missile defense bubble around the US’ Asian allies. In early October the US Navy began sequencing some of its AEGIS-equipped ships (designated Long-Range Surveillance and Tracking (LRS&T) platforms) in the waters near Japan, The ships will be drawn from the 7th Fleet’s Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers (DDG-51 class) and Ticonderoga-class guided missile cruisers (CG-41 class). North Korea – a short distance from Japan – is one of several dozen nations that has for several years been making “missile noises” at the US and its allies. On October 1, USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54) – based near Tokyo -- took up station in the Sea of Japan. Two other Burke’s – USS Fitzgerald and USS John S. McCain -- remained in port nearby. USS Coronado is the first ballistic missile shield command ship on scene.

North Korea continues to work on both atomic weapons and its Taepodong and No-dong series of missiles with which to deliver them. In 1998, North Korea sent a missile over Japan, taking both Japan and the US by surprise. Shortly thereafter, Japan both jump-started its participation in the US’ anti-ballistic missile program and began a series of ISR satellite launches, which continues.

Pyongyang quickly and noisily denounced the Wilbur’s presence, noting that it held to itself the right for a pre-emptive attack against the US or its allies. It added that the deployment of the Wilbur and Coronado was “proof” that the US was advancing in its “serious plans” to invade the Stalinist nation.

Last March, Gordon England, Secretary of the Navy, told a gathering of missile defense experts that this deployment was to be the first part of a three-phase Navy approach "to achieve full missile defense capability." Phase two is to occur in 2005 with the outfitting of up to seven Burkes and Ticonderogas with Standard Missile-3 Block-1 missiles to counter both short- and medium-range ballistic missile threats. The last phase is to be realized in the spring of 2006, when the Navy is to have 10 - 15 destroyers and cruisers dedicated to carrying-out ballistic missile defense operations against any likely threats.

China has been uncharacteristically low-key about the new BMD system, noting only that while the system failed a test intercept in 2002, it may now be as much more reliable. They also grumble that the creation of the system is as much political as tactical, aimed in part at helping Bush be reelected.

In the near future, the plan calls for missile activity data monitored by the ships to be transmitted to Fort Greely, AK, and Vandenberg Air Force Base, CA, both of which would coordinate in the launch of interceptor missiles. These missiles would be carried aboard US ships as well as be placed in Alaska and California, the latter system scheduled to be in place by the end of 2005. Alaska missile installation is already underway. The program is budgeted for $53 billion over the next five years.