For those who are keeping track, it appears there are 6 AEGIS vessels, 3 US and 3 Japanese, involved in the naval ballistic missile defense tracking and intercept capability deployed off North Korea. There are also an undetermined number of additional naval assets without BMD from Japan, South Korea, the United States, and Canada operating in the region.

For the Japanese, JS Kirishima (DDG 174) is acting as the tracking vessel while JS Kongo (DDG 173) and JS Chokai (DDG 176) are currently deployed with SM-3s capable of being launched, according to Japanese news reports.

For the US Navy, the USS John S. McCain (DDG 56) is the only identified US Navy ship deployed off the coast of North Korea, but based on open source intelligence, there does appear to be two Pearl Harbor destroyers capable of AEGIS BMD supporting the USS John S. McCain (DDG 56).

While Gates made clear there is nothing the US can do to “prevent the launch” of the North Korean missile system, it is very much possible for the US to shoot it down.

I have not entertained the possibility of a US shootdown as likely. I also find news reports discussing the USS Chafee (DDG 90) being deployed interesting. You see, USS Chafee (DDG 90) doesn’t have AEGIS BMD capability, although she is a very modern destroyer. USS Chafee (DDG 90) would only be deployed to protect AEGIS BMD ships from “other” threats.

Politically speaking, there are very good arguments to be made why we should shoot it down. I would run it by China first as a courtesy, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they privately supported us in that position if for no other reason than to get a good look at our AEGIS BMD capability.

While it would be a bit of an overreach, it would send exactly the right message to both friends and foes regarding the Obama administration, essentially saying “Don’t F— with me.” Under the “speak softly and carry a big stick” theory, that would set up the Obama administration to make an example of an illegal missile launch, rather than having to deal with a foreign army crisis in order to make a political statement.

It is much easier to send messages when the risks are low, but without informing the Chinese it wouldn’t be a smart option.

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