Geoff FordenDPRK: Blip on a Screen


Screen Capture from a FNN Video, click here for the entire video.

So, for about five minutes this morning, the Japanese Self-Defense Forces thought North Korea had launched its satellite rocket. (Good thing they didn’t launch anything in response.) One of the interesting things about this false alarm was that it was reportedly seen by a radar that I and a few experts who know a lot more about radars than I do, weren’t aware of. It’s the J/FPS-5 radar and has been called Japan’s “next generation of ballistic missile tracking radars.” There is apparently a prototype near Chiba, near Tokyo, and one that just went operational in Shimokoshiki-shima [island] in Kagoshima Prefecture. (I’ve marked the general areas on a GoogleEarth image.) I think I would not have placed a radar all the down in Shimokoshiki-shima (if I have the right Island) if I was going to view missiles flying out of North Korea. Perhaps it might be a good place to observe (and direct?) a missile defense engagement?

ps As I write this, dawn must be coming to the Korean peninsula. It can get exhausting waiting for this thing to launch!

pps. Perhaps the existence of the J/FPS-5 is one reason why the Sea-based X-band radar hasn’t left Pearl Harbor?

Update: It must be a rule: as soon as you post something, the answer comes flying through the door. The J/FPS-5 is a detection radar and Japan will eventually surround itself with them. Take a look at this slide from an MDA briefing.

Update: (11:10 pm EDST) North Korea launched its Unha-2 rocket today at about 10:30 pm EDST. No word yet on if it put anything into orbit. Of course, if it did put something into orbit, it would be crossing the United State’s satellite tracking radar fence in Texas right about now for the first time. (Well, actually not. It would be at about 40 degrees South this time. So the US will either have to track it with other assets to determine its orbit—the most probable eventuality—or wait 5 or 6 hours for the US to pass underneath its orbit. Its late and Im tired.)

Update: (6:45 am EDST, 5 April 09) As of now, still no orbital object cataloged in the NASA satellite database as coming from this launch.

Comments

  1. Jochen Schischka (History)

    Just a thought:

    The Shimo-Koshiki-Shima-Radar might come in handy for intercepting any chinese missiles aimed at Japan…

    I only hope that the Japanese will publish some of their tracking data (i’d encourage the US-administration to do the same, unless they want to be called “WMD-liars” AGAIN in a few years…).

  2. Brian W (History)

    Geoff – any chance you have a kmz file with all the planned FPS-3 and 5 sites to post so we can import those sites into Google Earth?

  3. Geoff Forden (History)

    Brian,
    Im afraid that what I’ve got is the briefing slide linked to in the post. So you can make the same quality GoogleEarth file that I could. (If you do, I’ll post it here!)

  4. Tim Brown (History)

    Great!!! They finally launched the missile, so we can all go back to watching events that really matter on the world stage; the global economic slowdown, the winding down of the war in Iraq, the increasing conflict in Afghanistan; an unstable Pakistan, and the increasing narco-insurgency in the at-risk state of Mexico

  5. Jim Oberg (History)

    Is this a new unpublished missile view, or an old stock photo?

    http://english.aljazeera.net/news/asia-pacific/2009/04/20094524010906839.html

  6. Tal Inbar

    To Jim,

    The missile in your link is the one the North Koreans launched (unsuccessfully) in 1998.

  7. Jochen Schischka (History)

    To Jim Oberg:

    Definitely old; I’d associate this photograph with the 1998-launch. I guess it will take the media some time to come up with new material (i can only hope that there will eventually be new material at all).

  8. Major Lemon (History)

    Word on the street is that the vehicle never made orbit.

  9. Peter J. Brown (History)

    Russian media initially points to successful satellite deployment and even Washington Times today includes comments from Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund

    see—
    http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2009/apr/05/japan-us-rap-launch-of-rocket/?page=2

    Despite mounting evidence that no satellite is in orbit, “Mr. Cirincione said the North Korean satellite appeared to weigh between 330 and 440 pounds and was put into a low-Earth orbit about 340 miles high…” reports Washington Times.

    Really?

  10. Jim Oberg (History)

    NORAD and USNORTHCOM monitor North Korean launch
    http://www.northcom.mil/News/2009/040509.html
    April 05, 2009
    PETERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Colo. — North American Aerospace Defense Command and U.S. Northern Command officials acknowledged today that North Korea launched a Taepo Dong 2 missile at 10:30 p.m. EDT Saturday which passed over the Sea of Japan/East Sea and the nation of Japan.
    Stage one of the missile fell into the Sea of Japan/East Sea. The remaining stages along with the payload itself landed in the Pacific Ocean.
    No object entered orbit and no debris fell on Japan.
    NORAD and USNORTHCOM assessed the space launch vehicle as not a threat to North America or Hawaii and took no action in response to this launch.
    This is all of the information that will be provided by NORAD and USNORTHCOM pertaining to the launch.

  11. Jochen Schischka (History)

    If the 1270km-figure in this article:

    http://www.space-travel.com/reports/Tense_minutes_as_NKorea_rocket_flew_over_Japan_999.html

    turns out to be correct, then the second stage seemed to have failed (~2500km instead of the announced 3600-4000km -> about 1km/sec missing!); That would be consistent with the NORTHCOM-announcement of “the upper stages and the payload” falling into the pacific.

    Also, still nothing on NSSDC…

  12. Allen Thomson (History)

    > Perhaps the existence of the J/FPS-5 is one reason why the Sea-based X-band radar hasn’t left Pearl Harbor?

    I’d guess not. The J/FPS-5 serves for detection and SBX for precision tracking and imaging/discrimination. In addition, it isn’t clear that the Japanese radar is positioned to see the crucial third stage and payload separation parts of the trajectory. SBX, if deployed not far from Hawaii, would have been able to see those parts.

  13. Max Postman (History)

    Interestingly, CNN says the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement saying: “North Korea sent an artificial satellite into an earth orbit on the morning of April 5. The parameters of the satellite’s orbit are being specified now.” Call it optimism or patriotism but I’m inclined to side with NORAD. But assuming the Russians were wrong, I’m curious why. What, if anything, does this say about Russia’s ability to monitor global ballistic missile and satellite activity?

  14. russiannavyblog (History)

    <i>Interestingly, CNN says the Russian Foreign Ministry released a statement saying: “North Korea sent an artificial satellite into an earth orbit on the morning of April 5. The parameters of the satellite’s orbit are being specified now.” Call it optimism or patriotism but I’m inclined to side with NORAD. But assuming the Russians were wrong, I’m curious why. What, if anything, does this say about Russia’s ability to monitor global ballistic missile and satellite activity?</i>

    It may not say anything about Russia’s ability to monitor activity. It’s possible that the Russian Foreign Ministry just recycled a Nork press release. It’s very possible that communications between the Ministry of Defense and the MFA in Russia is as bad as it is in any country.

    I wouldn’t necessarily draw any conclusions from that.

  15. AWR (History)

    Only at the end of the NYT report do you get to this interesting observation:

    “While many analysts have looked at the launching through a military lens, some say another perspective involves political rivalries on the Korean Peninsula. For years, South Korea has been gearing up to fire a satellite into orbit and join the space club. Its spaceport of Oinarodo is nearly ready, but a launching scheduled for this month was delayed, giving North Korea an opening.

    “They’re racing to beat the South Koreans,” said Tim Brown, a senior fellow at GlobalSecurity.org, a private group in Alexandria, Virginia.”

  16. Peter J. Brown (History)

    This discussion has touched upon a somewhat sensitive aspect of this launch albeit indirectly.

    How exactly would NK be able to confirm that their missile was not intercepted far out over the Pacific?

    In other words, as Pyongyang attempts to put the best spin on what is tantamount to another failure, how do they maintain their tracking capability in the zone which lies well to the east of Japan?

    And were any of China’s Yuanwang or Dongdiao missile tracking ships present in this zone during the launch?

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