Defense One – On North Korean ICBM Threat – US Missile Defense Still Has a Long, Long Way to Go.
by Ruby Henley
I do not write about the United States/North Korea situation, as I have been busy with other topics as of late. However, I subscribe to the publication, DEFENSE ONE, as it is a reputable source for such a topic. I was reading over the latest issue, and I was very shocked to discover our defense system against the threat of a North Korean ICBM strike seems to be lacking.
I know that President Trump has made it one of his missions to increase our Defense budget, and in reading this article I am very appreciative of that. I would not even be doing a report on this, but I am concerned.
“The ICBM that’s incoming is expected to be going 15,000 miles per hour. The interceptor will be going on the same order, maybe a little slower,” says Laura Grego, senior scientist and global security specialist at the Union of Concerned Scientists. “You’re trying to line up these refrigerator-sized things in space at the same place at the same time. That’s a tricky thing to do.”
That statement does not ring well with me, so lets really explore just how prepared the United States is in counteracting an ICBM attack from North Korea. The fact is this is a probable reality we may be facing sooner than later.
In the past we have been assured that North Korea was backward in its nuclear capabilities; unfortunately, we know now that is not true. We know that North Korea is more sophisticated in its nuclear program, as they have proven themselves with new strides in testing. Further, we know that Kim Jong-un would rather destroy his entire country than be toppled, as the United States did to leaders like Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Omar Gaddafi in Libya. I think he would self-destruct first.
How good is America’s homeland ballistic-missile defense? If North Korea attacked tomorrow, could it stop this attack? According to “Defense One” no one really knows. First of all, the attacker has many built-in advantages. Second of all, the good thing is North Korea’s force of Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missiles, or the dreaded ICBMs, is a work in progress. Thus, there are many variables here.
According to American terminology, North Korea’s ICBM system is at a stage called “initial operational capability” or short of full-scale readiness…but available to some extent on an emergency basis. That is what we believe, but according to Defense experts trying to anticipate how an exchange would play out would be similar to writing “Mothra vs.Godzilla.”
How would you describe our American Defense system today? “Complex” is a good word to use, as it consists of a network of radars, space-based sensors, battle-management systems, and “hit-to-kill” interceptor missiles designed to simply destroy an attacking warhead through collision. I imagine if you don’t hit and smash the incoming missile you are out of luck, and it sounds like there are many small factors that are rather vague.
A total of 36 interceptors are currently deployed—four at Vandenberg Air Force Base in California, and 32 at Fort Greely in Alaska. Another eight are to be installed by the end of the year in silos at Fort Greely. Called the Ground-based Midcourse Defense, or GMD, the system is operated by U.S. Northern Command, which is charged with the defense of American homeland.
The following does not comfort me at all, and frankly, I am shocked.
The Pentagon’s authority for testing and evaluation rates the system as having “limited capability to defend the U.S. Homeland from small numbers of simple intermediate-range or intercontinental ballistic missile threats launched from North Korea or Iran.” But the evaluators decline to provide “quantitative” assessments of its performance, citing a lack of ground testing of key subsystems with “accredited” models and simulations.
The evaluators also criticized GMD for the low “reliability and availability” of its interceptors, noting that the U.S. Missile Defense Agency “continues to discover new failure modes during testing.” According to MDA, 18 GMD intercept tests were undertaken between October 1999 and May 2017, with 10 hits, although one of these hits may not have “killed” the target. Depending on how one scores that event, the system has an overall success rate of about 50 to 55 percent. Well-informed critics have knocked even this disappointing record as misleading, pointing to the “scripted” nature of testing. END OF QUOTE
If this gives your pause, I think it should…it does me. I think it is time national leaders speak about missile defense. The following is written by Joe Cirincione. He is president of Ploughshares Fund and the author of Nuclear Nightmares: Securing the World Before It Is Too Late.
You won’t like what he has to say. Remember when North Korea sent a missile flying over Japan? QUOTE:
The number one reason we don’t shoot down North Korea’s missiles is that we cannot.
Officials like to reassure their publics about our defense to these missiles. Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told his nation after last week’s test, “We didn’t intercept it because no damage to Japanese territory was expected.”
That is half true. The missile did not pose a serious threat. It flew over the Japanese island of Hokkaido, landing 3700 km (2300 miles) from its launch point near North Korea’s capital of Pyongyang.
The key word here is “over.” Like way over. Like 770 kilometers (475 miles) over Japan at the apogee of its flight path. Neither Japan nor the United States could have intercepted the missile. None of the theater ballistic missile defense weapons in existence can reach that high. It is hundreds of kilometers too high for the Aegis interceptors deployed on Navy ships off Japan. Even higher for the THAAD systems in South Korea and Guam. Way too high for the Patriot systems in Japan, which engage largely within the atmosphere.
All of these are basically designed to hit a missile in the post-mid-course or terminal phase, when it is on its way down, coming more or less straight at the defending system. Patriot is meant to protect relatively small areas such as ports or air bases; THAAD defends a larger area; the advanced Aegis system theoretically could defend thousands of square kilometers.
But could we intercept before the missile climbed that high? There is almost no chance of hitting a North Korean missile on its way up unless an Aegis ship was deployed very close to the launch point, perhaps in North Korean waters. Even then, it would have to chase the missile, a race it is unlikely to win. In the only one or two minutes of warning time any system would have, the probability of a successful engagement drops close to zero.
What about our long-range defenses, the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense, or GMD, interceptors based in Alaska and California? There the test record is even worse. Even under ideal conditions, where the defenders knew the time, direction and trajectory of the test target and all the details of its shape, temperature, etc., this system has only hit its target half of the time. END OF QUOTE
All I can say is prepare in your own way, and pray that our Country can build upon the goal of President Trump in making our military stronger and more prepared for an attack by North Korea. President Trump intends to slash spending on many of the federal government’s most politically sensitive programs to shift more to the armed forces. I hope after this report, you can understand why this is necessary.