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(LEAD) S. Korean military turns to emergency mode ahead of NK rocket launch
By Kim Eun-jung
SEOUL, Dec. 4 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's military on Tuesday launched an emergency task force team charged with analyzing the latest developments in North Korea's preparations to fire off a long-range rocket later this month, a Seoul military official said.

   The defense ministry and the Joint Chiefs of Staff began operation of the task force team, which is composed of 10 military officials specialized in operations and intelligence analysis, to get ready for the rocket launch.

   "They will analyze latest development in North Korea and distribute the information to military and related organizations," a senior defense ministry official said, noting the North has not yet shown any special signs of provocations
While the military currently maintains the surveillance "Watchcon" 3 status, a normal defense condition, it plans upgrade the level when countdown nears.


The Navy will send two Aegis warships equipped with SPY-1 radar to the western sea to track the rocket route, officials said.

   Seoul is also considering deploying PAC-2 anti-missile system in case the North's rocket veers off the projected path, they noted.

   The latest move came as Pyongyang has completed placing the second stage of its three-stage rocket into position and is instaling the third stage at its launch pad, according to a government source in Seoul.

   It is the latest indication that the isolated nation will push ahead with the launch in defiance of international calls to drop the plan seen as a cover for testing the country's long-range ballistic missile technology.

   Following the announcement of its launch plan on Saturday, the North has notified its trajectory to its neighbors and the International Maritime Organization.

   On Tuesday, the London-based United Nations maritime organization said it has received an official notice from the North will fire off a rocket sometime between December 10 and 22 and it would take a similar path to that planned for a failed launch in April.

   An analysis of coordinates given by the North showed that the first stage of the rocket is expected to fall into the Yellow Sea, about 140 kilometers west of Buan in North Jeolla Province, while the second stage should fall in waters about 136 km east of the Philippines.

   The rocket cover is expected to drop about 88 kilometers west of the southern island of Jeju, if all three stages successfully separate.

   According to military sources in Seoul, the United States and Japan have deployed the latest radar system and reconnaissance vehicles near the projected route, and plan to jointly operate the missile defense system in the region.

   While the two allies operated the missile defense system for an April launch that failed shortly after liftoff, they will have the opportunity to test the missile interception system under development, the source said.

   "If North Korea fires off a long-range missile, the U.S. and Japan will once again test the missile defense system," the senior official said, asking anonymity. "If the U.S. and Japan operate the MD system, it could bother China."

   Japan has reportedly sent ships carrying Patriot anti-missile defense system in Okinawa and around Tokyo to guard against the planned launch, though the rocket isn't expected to fly over its territory.

   If the North goes ahead with the plan, it will be the second rocket launch attempt under leader Kim Jong-un, who took power following the death of his father Kim Jong-il nearly a year ago.

   While the last launch ended in failure, many experts question whether the isolated communist nation has accumulated the technology to upgrade an earlier version of a rocket fired three years ago.

   Cha Du-hyeon, a senior researcher at the Korea Institute for Defense Analysis (KIDA), doubted whether the North has developed new technology considering the relatively short period of time since the last launch.

   "Usually, it takes at least one and a half years or two years to fix technological flaws when firing missiles," Cha said. "There is a slim chance for (the North) to develop new things with their own technologies in the last eight months."

   Baek Seung-joo of KIDA agreed with that view, saying the Pyongyang regime will try to use the rocket launch to fit its "political schedule" to highlight the new leadership.

   According to military officials in Seoul, the Unha-2 rocket, which was fired by the North from Musudan-ri in its northeast in April 2009, flew about 3,800 kilometers to land in the Pacific Ocean.

   If the Unha-3 rocket, the latest version, flies more than 4,000 km, experts say Pyongyang will be considered to have come near to developing intercontinental ballistic missile capabilities, allowing for missile launches of more than 5,500 km.