By Mar-Vic Cagurangan
Palauans will get a front-row view of the Patriot air defense missile system blasting from Airai tomorrow morning as part of the Valiant Shield exercise that involves Palau for the first time this year.
“The live-fire will occur tomorrow morning, with the specific launch time being dependent on weather and other conditions,” said Major Nicholas Chopp, a spokesman for the 94th Air and Missile Defense Command at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam in Hawaii.
While the Airai International Airport will be shut down during the drill, Chopp said people in the area will be able to see the launch that will entail backblast and noise.
“The interceptor will travel from the airport to an area of ocean to the southeast of the airport, where it will engage an unmanned aerial system that simulates a cruise missile,” Chopp said in an email. “The engagement will last for less than two minutes.”
The Patriot will be fired by Okinawa-based soldiers from 1st Battalion, 1st Air Defense Artillery Battalion. “Around 70 Army soldiers are involved, with supporting Marines and Air Force as well,” Chopp said.
Military officials reassured Palau that the test fire will be safe.
“Safety is our number one priority for every live-fire exercise that we conduct,” Chopp said.
He said the event was closely coordinated with the Palau government for clearance of the air space as well as the water where the intercept will occur.
“Palauan ships will have a picket line set up to prevent any maritime traffic from entering the area, and multiple radar sources from Army and other service systems constantly scan the area for any traffic - both in the air and on the sea," Chopp said.
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In the past two years, the Army has conducted four live-fire exercises “with no safety incidents,” he added.
“It has been a great privilege to spend time with the people of Palau, who have been amazingly welcoming, friendly and interested in what we do,” Chopp said.
“These types of exercises are a great opportunity to learn from one another about cultures, interests, and shared values. We look forward to continuing to build relationships with the people of Palau, and the dozens of our other partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The Valiant Shield exercise, which is being held in Guam, the Northern Marianas and Palau, began on June 6 amid renewed threats from North Korea, which is reportedly prepping for another nuclear test.
During a visit to Seoul last week, Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman warned that Washington will take a “swift and forceful response” if North Korea conducts a nuclear test.
According to a transcript of a June 5 press briefing, Sung Kim, U.S. special representative to South Korea, reported that Pyongyang launched eight ballistic missiles from various parts of the country, which would be the largest number of ballistic missiles ever launched in a single day.
"North Korea has now launched 31 ballistic missiles in 2022, the most ballistic missiles it has ever launched in a single year, surpassing its previous record of 25 in 2019. And it’s only June," Kim said.