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Japan and South Korea to Link Radar Systems Via U.S. to Track North’s Missiles, Report Says

South Korean Navy's destroyer Yulgok Yi I, the US Navy's destroyer USS Benfold and Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force's destroyer Atago take part in joint naval missile defense exercises in international waters between Korea and Japan, April 17, 2023. The South Korean Defense Ministry/Handout via REUTERS ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY.

Japan and South Korea are planning to link their radars via a U.S. system, providing Tokyo with real-time data in a move that would improve its detection capabilities as nuclear-armed North Korea continues to fire off missiles at an unprecedented clip.

The looming agreement, which was first reported Tuesday by the Yomiuri Shimbun daily, would see radar and command-and-control systems used by the Self-Defense Forces and U.S. forces in Japan connected to the South Korean military and American forces there via the Hawaii-based U.S. Indo-Pacific Command. Doing so would bypass the thorny issue of two nonallied countries — Japan and South Korea — sharing delicate information instantly, since they would be doing it via their mutual ally, the U.S.

The three countries are also working on launching a consultation group for sharing missile warning data in real time, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported the same day, quoting a presidential official.

“The three countries’ military authorities are currently building the system,” the official said. “We will do our best to build the system at an early date.”

Asked about the reports, Japan’s top government spokesman said Tuesday that no decision had been made, but noted that the three nations’ leaders had agreed in November to work toward real-time data sharing on North Korean missiles, something they said would be “a major step for deterrence, peace and stability.”

“As the security environment around Japan and South Korea, including the situation surrounding North Korea’s nuclear missiles, becomes increasingly severe and complex, trilateral cooperation is becoming more and more important,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said, adding that coordination on the issue between defense officials from the three countries was continuing.

South Korea’s Defense Ministry also remained mum, but said discussions on the issue were continuing.

The three countries are expected to announce a deal on the issue during next month’s Shangri-La Dialogue defense summit in Singapore, with Tokyo and Seoul having already came to an agreement in principle during Prime Minister Fumio Kishida’s two-day visit to South Korea for talks with President Yoon Suk-yeol this week.

Further confirmation of the agreement’s details is expected during a trilateral summit involving Kishida, Yoon and U.S. President Joe Biden on the sidelines of the Group of Seven leaders’ meeting in Hiroshima next week.

Years of chilly ties between Tokyo and Seoul have warmed in recent months under Kishida and Yoon, especially in the security arena as North Korea has showcased increasingly powerful missiles capable of evading defenses in both countries.

Bolstering defense ties with Seoul has been a top priority for Tokyo, which has seen difficulties in tracking North Korean missile launches, most recently last month, when it briefly issued rare alert for residents of Hokkaido to take shelter after a North Korean missile was thought to be headed for the northernmost prefecture.

The Defense Ministry later said it believed the multistage missile’s inflight separation may have confused its tracking systems, prompting the alert.

Source: The Japan Times