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SKorea’s only missile-tracking warship off duty: official

world Updated: Jun 04, 2009 12:05 IST

South Korea’s only Aegis-class destroyer capable of tracking North Korean missiles is out of service for maintenance, officials said on Thursday, amid signs that Pyongyang is preparing for further launches.

The 7,600-ton Sejong the Great has led efforts to track North Korea’s missile launches since it was commissioned last December. It was used to confirm the North’s April 5 long-range rocket launch.

The North is now said to be preparing to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile as well as several medium-range missiles.

Some analysts speculate the long-range missile could be fired to coincide with a June 16 US-South Korean summit in Washington.

The Sejong the Great has radar capable of monitoring targets about 1,000 kilometres (625 miles) away and can shoot down targets within a radius of 150 kilometres.

The defence ministry said it was sent to a shipyard on May 23 for routine maintenance, not because of a systems glitch.

“Maintenance will be conducted until the end of this month,” a spokesman told AFP. Workers would be helped by US technicians from Lockheed Martin, which built the ship’s radar system.

He denied a newspaper report that the destroyer had suffered a software glitch in its missile tracking radar system.

The Korea Times quoted a military source as saying: “A flaw in the data transmission system linked with the missile tracking radar in the Aegis destroyer was found.”

Tensions have been running high on the Korean peninsula since Pyongyang tested a nuclear bomb for the second time on May 25 and launched a series of short-range missiles.