ReutersSEOUL (Reuters) — North Korea’s latest weapons test showed it can accurately fire multiple medium-range ballistic missiles, an attack strategy that experts said could test the advanced U.S. THAAD anti-missile system which began to arrive in South Korea on Tuesday.
Advances in North Korea’s banned missile program have also caused concern in Tokyo, where sources with knowledge of the government’s thinking said a “swarm-like” attack using multiple missiles could overwhelm Japan’s already stretched defenses.
Images released by North Korean state media showed leader Kim Jong Un presiding over Monday’s simultaneous launch of four ballistic missiles, which landed in seas off Japan’s northwest.
In response, the United States started the early deployment of its advanced Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile system in South Korea on Tuesday, despite angry opposition from China.
THAAD’s job is to intercept and destroy a ballistic missile in its final phase of flight, either inside or just outside the earth’s atmosphere.
But with its specifications secret and having never been used in wartime, THAAD’s ability to deal with a barrage of missiles at the same time is uncertain.
“The use of multiple shots, timed ever-more-closely together, appears destined to rehearse saturating a defensive system by presenting it with an overwhelmingly complex radar picture,” Joshua Pollack, editor of the U.S.-based Nonproliferation Review, said of Monday’s launch.
South Korean military and intelligence officials said the four North Korean missiles appeared to be an upgraded version of the Scud type — the “ER” or “Extended Range” Scud.
“An advantage of the ER Scud over the Rodong is that the ER Scud is much cheaper,” said Jeffrey Lewis of the California-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies.
“So North Korea can presumably build more ER Scuds to overwhelm THAAD,” Lewis said.
10 at once
Most experts believe North Korea would likely need to fire off more than four ballistic missiles at one time to inundate a THAAD battery — perhaps 10, according to Michael Elleman, a U.S.-based rocket expert with the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
“I would be disappointed to learn that four attacking missiles would overwhelm THAAD,” he said.