North Korean missile drill simulated targeting Iwakuni base, analysis shows
Japan Times -- Mar 09
A new open-source intelligence analysis of North Korean state-run media by missile experts has shown what appears to be the hypothetical target of the country's test-launches earlier this week: U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Iwakuni in Yamaguchi Prefecture.

On Monday, the North test-fired what experts said were likely four extended-range (ER) Scud missiles, with the official Korean Central News Agency issuing an overt claim that the drill was a rehearsal for striking U.S. military bases in Japan.

Using images released by North Korean state media - including one showing a map detailing the range of the missiles - David Schmerler and Jeffrey Lewis of the Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in California, determined that the drill intended to simulate a nuclear attack on the base at Iwakuni.

“This is the first time that the North Koreans have been specific about attacking U.S. Forces in Japan,” Lewis told The Japan Times. “But last year, a North Korean missile unit launched a Nodong to simulate a nuclear attack on Busan, (South Korea).”

Last July, the North said it held a similar drill that “was conducted by limiting the firing range under the simulated conditions of making pre-emptive strikes at ports and airfields in the operational theater in South Korea, ” KCNA said in a dispatch at the time.

An accompanying photo, similar to the one released Tuesday, showed a map that displayed the possible flight path of the missiles from Hwangju, North Korea, to areas near South Korea’s southern port cities of Ulsan and Busan.

Because the flight path of the four missiles launched Monday was about 1,000 km into the Sea of Japan off the coasts of Aomori and Akita prefectures, Schmerler said he initially believed the simulation might be targeting the U.S. air base in Misawa, Aomori.

“But the range would be a push for the ER Scud to be reasonably used,” he said.

Instead, Lewis suggested that U.S. bases in both Sasebo, Nagasaki Prefecture, and Iwakuni would be within range from ER Scuds deployed near the North’s Sohae Satellite Launch Station in Dongchang-ri, where Monday’s missiles were launched.

After discovering the map photo from Monday’s launch, Schmerler compared it with the similar shot from the Busan drill in July, concluding that Iwakuni was the “hypothetical target for the (recent) drill,” he said.

Besides American personnel, the U.S. base at Iwakuni is also home to Fleet Air Wing 31 of the Maritime Self-Defense Force, and other units of the MSDF. At present, the station has about 15,000 personnel, including Japanese national employees. The base is also now home to a squadron of F-35B stealth fighters, after the U.S. deployed them in January, marking the first operational overseas deployment for the high-tech aircraft.

News source: Japan Times
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