The government plans to shoot down a North Korean rocket scheduled for launch in the middle of next month if it strays off course, causing the first stage booster to fall on South Korean territory, the Defense Ministry said Monday.
But experts point out that the missiles in South Korea's arsenal are unequal to the task of engaging intercontinental ballistic missiles, which many believe is really what the North is testing, and will have to rely on the U.S. to shoot it down.
A Defense Ministry official told reporters the military intends to shoot down the North Korean rocket if the first-stage booster drops on South Korean territory rather than 140 km west of Byeonsan Peninsula, as North Korea estimates.
The military had apparently been thinking about using PAC-2 Patriot missiles to intercept the rocket from ground bases and SM-2 ship-to-air missiles with a range of 170 km from the King Sejong the Great and Yulgok Yi Yi Aegis destroyers. But experts said they are designed to intercept aircraft and could prove unable to shoot down rocket parts falling at supersonic speeds.
The South is therefore discussing with the U.S. military whether the U.S. Forces Korea's PAC-3 Patriot missiles and SM-3 ship-to-air missiles mounted on the U.S. Seventh Fleet's Aegis destroyers could be used instead. The U.S. military is considering stationing the Aegis destroyers in the West Sea and moving some PAC-3 missiles from bases in Osan, Gunsan and Waegan for the eventuality.