News Zone


Official Statement of the ROK MND regarding the JMSDF Patrol Aircraft Incident(1.22.)

1. Japan's stance and response

The Republic of Korea and Japan are neighboring countries with friendly relations, and the ROK has continuously urged that the said incident could have been resolved through working-level meetings. The ROK believes that both parties could have easily resolved the situation by holding discussions, reviewing objective evidence, and resolving any misunderstandings based on a shared knowledge of international law and weapon systems.


On December 21st, just 3 hours following the ROK MND’s response that ROKS Gwanggaeto the Great destroyer did not illuminate its tracking radar (STIR), Japan’s MoD held a press conference to deliver a unilateral message. On December 27th, despite the ROK MND’s objections, Japan released a video from the JMSDF patrol aircraft following a video conference which had just been held the previous day. Japan continued to act against resolving the situation through working-level discussions, which resulted in dragging the issue into 2019 and escalating the issue. We question whether these actions exhibit an appropriate attitude with regard to friendly relations between neighboring countries.


In contrast, the ROK MND continued efforts to resolve the issue and misunderstandings through bilateral working-level meetings while minimizing negative comments from high-ranking officials to prevent the hampering of security cooperation between the ROK and Japan. We believe Japan recognizes our efforts in this regard as well.


2. Threatening low-altitude flight


The JMSDF’s patrol aircraft conducted a threatening low-altitude flight for a considerable duration over ROKS Gwanggaeto the Great destroyer, which had been conducting a humanitarian rescue operation for a North Korean fishing vessel in distress. Japan’s MoD claimed that the aircraft had been conducting an observation flight to understand the type of operation that the ROK ship was conducting and that the crew had not been aware of the rescue operation.

Japan continues to question why ROKS Gwanggaeto the Great destroyer did not respond to communication from the JMSDF patrol aircraft. However, this makes it all the more difficult to understand why the aircraft did not receive the distress signal from the rescued vessel. Even in the video released by Japan’s MoD, the aircraft crew mentions two ROK Coast Guard rubber boats and the distressed North Korean wooden boat. It is impossible for the aircraft crew to have been unaware of the rescue situation.


One of the most questionable points from Japan’s MoD is the claim that it did not conduct a low-altitude flight. Japan’s MoD has already admitted that the lowest flight altitude of 150m stated in the Convention on International Civil Aviation does not apply to military aircraft. Nevertheless, 150m is the lowest altitude for safety even without any people or buildings present. Based on common sense, the 150m altitude is the bare minimum threshold for safety, and is in no way a sufficiently safe altitude as Japan’s MoD initially claimed.


As reference, the ROK Military‘s patrol aircraft maintains an altitude of 300m and a distance of 5500m to 9000m from the point of observation with the exception of special operations including the observation of suspicious ships. This distance is enough to identify ships using the detection equipment of the ROK Military. A 150m altitude and 500m distance indicates a threatening low-altitude flight and is deemed as surveillance activity against suspicious ships.


It is important to note that the JMSDF conducted a threateningly low-altitude flight. The crew of ROKS Gwanggaeto the Great destroyer identified the flight as threatening activity. The natural reaction to a maritime rescue operation is to help, not follow and cross the tracks of the ship and inflict noise and vibrations on the crew. Such intentional and discourteous interference to the rescue operation from the JMSDF is highly regrettable. The ROK MND urges Japan’s MoD to come up with measures to prevent the recurrence of a threatening low-altitude flight.


Despite the threatening low-altitude flight, ROKS Gwanggaeto the Great destroyer identified the aircraft as a friendly one using its IFF and confirmed its friendly status using an optical camera. If it had been an unidentified aircraft, the ship would have taken self-protective measures.


Japan’s MoD claimed that the ROK MND had not previously raised complaints to similar maneuvers. However, during the working-level meeting on January 14th in Singapore, when the ROK MND asked Japan’s MoD whether it would not raise any complaints if other countries conducted similar maneuvers to Japanese ships, the MoD could not give a proper response. Japan’s MoD should not conduct activities that would cause discomfort to or threaten other countries if it would feel the same way in the same situation. Japan needs to apologize for the low-altitude flight and vow to prevent such incident from occurring again.


3. Illumination of the STIR


The ROK MND reiterates that ROKS Gwanggaeto the Great destroyer was conducting a humanitarian rescue operation and did not illuminate the JMSDF patrol aircraft with its STIR. The ROK Navy has no reason to illuminate an identified friendly aircraft with such threatening tracking radar. Nevertheless, the ROK MND took the Japanese claim into serious consideration and underwent a detailed verification process. After two combat tests conducted under the same conditions as the actual incident, crew interviews, and an analysis of the combat system and saved data, the ROK MND reached an apparent and scientifically accurate conclusion that no ROK Navy ship illuminated its STIR radar on that day.


Illumination of the radar can be clearly verified once Japan’s MoD provides precise radar frequency data for experts of the two sides to conduct a scientific and objective verification of the facts. However, Japan’s MoD suggested that the ROK MND reveal full frequency specifications of the ROK Navy’s tracking radars to verify unidentified radar frequencies that the JMSDF patrol aircraft collected. This is a highly inappropriate attitude towards friendly nations.


The frequency specifications of tracking radars are highly sensitive and classified military information. Japan’s MoD should understand that revealing this information would be a breach in security and lead to changing all weapon systems of the ROK Navy ships. The ROK MND finds it difficult to understand Japan’s intent to proposing such an asymmetrical exchange of information.


On January 21st, Japan’s MoD revealed electromagnetic sounds. They are ambiguous mechanical sounds that do not contain the date of detection, angle and traits of electromagnetic waves and other information that Korea had requested. The press release even admits that “the objective truth can be revealed after a comprehensive analysis using both the detected radar waves and detailed specifications of the ROK Navy radars.” The continued unilateral attempts by Japan’s MoD to gloss over the facts in front of the citizens of both countries and the international community is questionable.


The electromagnetic sounds released by Japan’s MoD are merely mechanical sounds. As various types of radars were being operated on the site of the incident, there is no reason to jump to the conclusion that such processed mechanical sounds would be radar waves from the ROK Navy. Furthermore, with no system log file provided by Japan’s MoD, it is difficult to confirm that the sounds were an actual record from the date of the incident.


The response by the JMSDF patrol aircraft poses yet another problem. Once illuminated with tracking radars, the standard procedure for an aircraft would be to conduct avoidance maneuvers in full speed. However, the aircraft did not throttle to its highest speed, and even turned towards the direction of ROKS Gwanggaeto the Great when the aircraft was first claimed to have been illuminated with the radar.


4. Other assertions from Japan

While Japan’s MoD claims good weather conditions on the date of the incident, the conditions of the water at the time were rough. As also shown in the weather forecast from the KMA(Korea Meterological Administration), the wave height at the time was not 1m but approximately 1.5~2m, making the conditions unfavorable for the rescue operation. Such conditions can also be observed from the existence of white waves from the Japanese video, and the tilt of a lifeboat from the ROK video.


With regard to communication, we could only hear one radio call out of the three radio calls that Japan claims to have made, and we confirmed that the remaining two radio calls were not recorded at all. Thus, the ROK requested the call records from Japan to verify whether the remaining two calls were actually transmitted, yet Japan continued to remain silent on the matter.


The radio call transmitted through VHF 156.8MHz was retrieved. However, as we have already explained to Japan, the excessive noise and poor receiving sensitivity of the transmission and inaccurate pronunciation of the Japanese pilot led to the ROK's communication officer to misunderstand “Korea South” as “Korea Coast.”


Japan continuously claims that it did not receive any urgency signals from the ROK fishing boat requesting the rescue of the distressed North Korean fishing boat, and therefore, argues that the patrol aircraft had been approaching without awareness of the ongoing rescue operation by the ROK vessel.


During the working-level meeting, a member of the ROK delegation with extensive maritime experience, mentioned that one of the most common incidents in the ocean is poor communication and that transmission can be largely affected by the status of a transmitter or receiver. We express our regrets to Japan for delivering a unilateral demand to the ROK to take action despite having reached a mutual consensus to discuss possible measures to resolve the issue.


5. Conclusion


The fundamental nature of this issue is the JMSDF patrol aircraft's threatening low-altitude flight towards the ROK Navy vessel that had been conducting a humanitarian rescue operation. We urge Japan to admit to its patrol aircraft's threatening low-altitude flight towards our vessel and to establish measures to prevent such incident from recurring.


The ROK MND once again solemnly urges Japan to halt its inappropriate media controversy which does not contribute to bilateral relations, trilateral cooperation and the international community. As mentioned repeatedly, the ROK has been seeking a scientific and objective verification of accurate data, such as timing of the radar sounds, bearing of the waves and frequency specifications, with the participation of experts from both the ROK and Japan. We express our deepest regrets to Japan for discontinuing the working-level meetings without providing any decisive evidence.


Along with the solid ROK-US Combined Defense Posture, our government will continue its efforts to strengthen security cooperation between the ROK and Japan despite the current incident. //END//



  • (Presentation and Follow-on discussion)