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N Korea at crossroads

What intel pact? Japan flaunts North Korea missile analysis

Rapid release of information aims to downplay rift with Seoul

North Korea has tested 18 missiles since May, adding to tensions in East Asia.   © KCNA via Reuters

TOKYO -- Japan is working to prove to the international community that its ability to detect and analyze North Korea's missile launches will not be compromised by the expiration of an intelligence-sharing pact with South Korea.

Tokyo's capabilities were put to the test early Tuesday when North Korea launched two projectiles from South Pyongan Province around 7 a.m. They flew as far as 330 km, according to South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff.

"We are working to collect and analyze information. We are conducting our own investigation on the flight distance and other details," Japanese Defense Minister Takeshi Iwaya said.

The North previously conducted a missile test on Aug. 24, the day after South Korea told Japan that it would not renew the General Security of Military Information Agreement. The Japanese government at the time announced the launch earlier than usual ahead of Seoul, in a bid to show the international community that it was prepared to handle such emergencies without Seoul.

Both Japan and South Korea cooperate with the U.S., a common military ally, to prepare for a North Korean missile launch. The military information agreement has allowed the neighbors to better share information about the type and flight patterns of the rockets.

Japan in particular is believed to have significantly improved its analysis since the pact was signed in 2016. But with the framework now set to expire on Nov. 22, Japan is eager to prove that the effect will be minimal.

Likely as a part of this effort, Japan's Defense Ministry has released data it collected on the 18 missiles North Korea has tested over nine occasions since May.

Iwaya told reporters on Sept. 3 that these launches involved at least two new types of short-range ballistics missiles -- one similar to Russia's Iskander missile, and another that Pyongyang calls a "super-large multiple rocket launcher" and has a range between 350 km and 400 km.

The minister also suggested there may be a third type, which looks and launches like a U.S. surface-to-surface missile called the Army Tactical Missile System.

These new rockets tend to travel at lower altitudes before making a final ascent toward the end of its flight. This makes them difficult to shoot down using the Standard Missile-3 and Patriot Advanced-Capability-3 missiles currently deployed by Japan.

Tokyo did not release details of past launches when they first happened. It decided to do so now "because we need to demonstrate that we can conduct advanced analyses," a Defense Ministry official said.

"Japan and South Korea are communicating very closely," Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Tuesday when asked about dialogue regarding the agreement. "We want to continue cooperating fully, including on exchanging information."

Iwaya stressed that the framework will remain in effect until Nov. 22. "We want to deal with the situation appropriately as long as the [agreement] is alive," he said.

The U.S. has strongly criticized South Korea's decision to leave the pact. Tokyo plans to continue urging Seoul to renew the agreement.

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