September 30, 2019 12:43
A North Korean radar based on Hambak Island, which is nominally administered by South Korea, is thought to be a military tracking system rather than a civilian one, as the Defense Ministry here claims.
Some evidence suggests that the radar has a range of 178 km.
Liberty Korea Party lawmaker Baek Seung-joo on Sunday said he was told by military officers that the radar on Hambak Island "is capable of navigational support and coastal surveillance."
Baek explained that the South Korean military classifies military-use radars into four usage categories: navigational support, coastal surveillance, aerial scanning and fire support.
Yet last week, the Defense Ministry told reporters that the radar "is not for military use, but is the same kind of navigational radar installed on civilian vessels."
The reporters were visiting nearby Mal Island to get a closer look at the mystery island, which keeps floating north and south of the Northern Limit Line depending on the map.
Baek said he contacted Japanese electronics firm Furuno, which manufactured the radar, and discovered that it is the same type used on the North's patrol boats as well as by the U.S., Italian and Danish navies. He added new radars manufactured by Furuno since 2010 have a maximum range of 178 km and can simultaneously monitor 30 moving targets.
"The Defense Ministry claims that the maximum range of the radar on Hambak Island is 40 to 60 km, but that's the range of civilian radars," Baek said. "If it is set up at a height of 64 m, the range becomes even longer."
Hambak Island rises to an elevation of 44 m and the radar sits atop a 20 m steel tower. The lawmaker added that the Defense Ministry is "refusing to admit this simple logic."
The ministry has tied itself up in knots over the last few weeks denying there is anything fishy about North Korea putting a military installation on an islet that is shown a good way south of the NLL, the de facto maritime border, on all publicly available civilian maps. It claims its own classified ordnance map shows it above the NLL.
The ministry said the radar may have been set up to monitor Chinese fishing boats, which often transgress into nearby waters, but military experts disagree.
Shin Jong-woo at the Korea Defense and Security Forum said, "North Korea's  shelling of Yeongpyeong Island revealed the low level of accuracy of the North's coastal batteries. You need to know where your artillery shells land, and the radar on Hambak may be used for that purpose."
The ministry continues to claim that it is a navigational radar.
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