Mobile missile tracking system second in Pacific theater
January 24, 2008
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan — In the demonstration, the computer map showed a ballistic missile launch from North Korea.
“We can do simulations from many different areas,” said Brig. Gen. John E. Seward at the official opening of JTAGS, the first mobile missile tracking system in Japan. “That’s just the one the soldiers picked for today.”
Efforts to bring the Joint Tactical Ground Stations unit to Japan started long before North Korea launched three missiles in July.
Seward, U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command deputy commander for operations based in Colorado Springs, Colo., said the process was four years in the making, at the request of U.S. Pacific Command. Although its three satellite antennas can be picked up and moved in the back of vehicles, the station will be a permanent presence at Misawa for the foreseeable future, officials said.
Japanese civic leaders, media members and military leaders from the Japan Air Self-Defense Force and 35th Fighter Wing were given a tour and demonstration of how JTAGS works.
Three soldiers sat at computers with screens that simulated detection of a ballistic missile launch.
Messages such as “missile alert” and “20 seconds to impact” followed. The soldiers confirmed the launch and the Sea of Japan as the “area sector at risk.”
One soldier picked up the phone to sound a warning.
In the event of an actual missile launch, JTAGS soldiers would swiftly notify U.S. commanders and allied forces in the region, Army officials said.
Reporters were curious how quickly JTAGS operators could recognize a launch after the fact.
Maj. Tim Dalton, 1st Space Company commander at Peterson Air Force Base, Colo., said it could take “several seconds to several minutes” depending on the data received from U.S. missile-warning satellites.
Infrared detectors on those satellites can sense heat generated from a missile launch and relay that information to JTAGS ground antennas.
Seward was also asked why Misawa was selected for JTAGS.
“There’s a strong military community here,” he said. “It was very easy to integrate them into the base.”
He noted JTAGS provides early missile warnings for the Pacific theater, as does another JTAGS at Osan Air Base, South Korea.
West of Misawa on the Sea of Japan is the Shariki Communications Site. It uses ground radar to detect a missile once it’s in flight, Seward noted.
As to how precisely JTAGS can predict a missile’s impact point, Seward said, “It has the ability to at least give areas of risk,” such as a military base or a community.