N. Ko­rea raises ur­gency for re­li­able mis­sile de­fense

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY CARLO MUÑOZ

North Ko­rea’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile test is shin­ing an in­tense spot­light on the Pen­ta­gon’s mis­sile de­fenses, sys­tems in­stalled to pro­tect South Ko­rea and now the U.S. main­land. Re­cent re­sults have been promis­ing, but U.S. of­fi­cials ac­knowl­edge that Py­ongyang’s stun­ning ad­vances this month are pro­vid­ing a real-world test much sooner than they had ex­pected.

The Pen­ta­gon has been tout­ing the vi­a­bil­ity of the coun­try’s bal­lis­tic mis­sile sys­tems fol­low­ing the ap­par­ent suc­cess­ful test by the regime of Kim Jong-un of a long-range mis­sile on July 4, say­ing the con­stel­la­tion of mis­sile in­ter­cep­tors and weapons now in place are fully ca­pa­ble of block­ing any threat to Amer­i­can shores from Py­ongyang or else­where.

The need for re­li­a­bil­ity of the mis­sile de­fense sys­tems, in­clud­ing the new Ter­mi­nal High-Al­ti­tude Area De­fense (THAAD) mis­sile de­fense bat­tery in­stalled in South Ko­rea, soared amid cal­cu­la­tions that the North has tested what could be its first in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile.

In what Pen­ta­gon of­fi­cials in­sisted was a pre­vi­ously planned ex­er­cise, the U.S. Mis­sile De­fense Agency re­vealed that a THAAD sys­tem based in Alaska suc­cess­fully tracked and shot down a sim­u­lated in­ter­me­di­ate-range bal­lis­tic mis­sile that closely re­sem­bles the ones Py­ongyang is de­vel­op­ing. The test was the first of its kind for the sys­tem against an in­com­ing in­ter­me­di­ate-range mis­sile, which an­a­lysts say is harder to hit than shorter-range mis­siles.

“This test fur­ther demon­strates the ca­pa­bil­i­ties of the THAAD weapon sys­tem and its abil­ity to in­ter­cept and de­stroy bal­lis­tic mis­sile threats,” Lt. Gen. Sa­muel A. Greaves, di­rec­tor of the Mis­sile De­fense Agency, said in a state­ment.

Sen. Dan Sul­li­van, an Alaska Repub­li­can whose state sud­denly finds it­self po­ten­tially in range of Py­ongyang’s dead­li­est weapons, praised the test. He said it “pro­vided fur­ther con­fir­ma­tion that we have the ca­pa­bil­ity to de­fend our bases, our troops and our al­lies in places like Ja­pan, South Ko­rea and Guam against rogue na­tions like North Ko­rea.”

But any test falls far short of real-world con­di­tions, when the en­emy doesn’t re­veal in ad­vance where and when the mis­sile will be launched or its in­tended tar­get.

“Mis­sile de­fense, even if it worked per­fectly, is not a get-outof-jail-free card,” Laura Grego, a se­nior sci­en­tist for the Global Se­cu­rity Pro­gram at the Union of Con­cerned Sci­en­tists, told the Bloomberg news ser­vice. Mis­sile de­fense sys­tems, crit­ics note, can’t af­ford to have a sin­gle fail­ure against pow­er­ful pay­loads likely to be loaded onto an ICBM.

“The home­land mis­sile de­fense sys­tem doesn’t work per­fectly and hasn’t demon­strated a real-world ca­pa­bil­ity,” Ms. Grego said.

Even be­fore the July 4 test, the Pen­ta­gon was poised to in­vest bil­lions of dol­lars to boost its anti-mis­sile tech­nol­ogy as part of Pres­i­dent Trump’s first de­fense bud­get. Aside from ad­di­tional fund­ing, De­fense Depart­ment of­fi­cials are spear­head­ing an over­haul of mis­sile de­fense strate­gies and tac­tics.

In one of his first acts as Pen­ta­gon chief, De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis ini­ti­ated a de­part­men­twide re­view of mis­sile de­fense op­er­a­tions in May. The re­view, led by Deputy Sec­re­tary of De­fense Robert O. Work and Vice Chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Paul J. Selva, will “iden­tify ways to strengthen mis­sile de­fense ca­pa­bil­i­ties, re­bal­ance home­land and the­ater de­fense pri­or­i­ties, and pro­vide the nec­es­sary pol­icy and strat­egy frame­work for the na­tion’s mis­sile de­fense sys­tems,” Pen­ta­gon press sec­re­tary Dana White said.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion’s new­found fo­cus on the net­work of land- and sea-based in­ter­cep­tor weapons and as­so­ci­ated sen­sors comes on the heels of the first suc­cess­ful test of the Pen­ta­gon’s pre­mier mis­sile in­ter­cep­tor sys­tem in May.


The game-changer in the de­bate was the suc­cess­ful July 4 test of the Hwa­song-14 in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile, which flew higher and far­ther than any pre­vi­ous North Korean lon­grange mis­sile shots, the­o­ret­i­cally plac­ing the en­tire state of Alaska within range of Py­ongyang’s new class of bal­lis­tic mis­siles.

Pen­ta­gon of­fi­cials went on a rhetor­i­cal of­fen­sive tout­ing the U.S. mis­sile de­fense ca­pa­bil­i­ties shortly after the North Korean test. The move was a clear ef­fort to re­as­sure Amer­i­can al­lies in the Pa­cific, rat­tled by the sig­nif­i­cant ca­pa­bil­i­ties demon­strated by the North Korean regime, and to clearly warn Py­ongyang against any fur­ther ag­gres­sive ac­tions.

“We do have con­fi­dence in our abil­ity to de­fend against the limited threat, the nascent threat that is there,” Pen­ta­gon spokesman Capt. Jeff. Davis told re­porters Wed­nes­day just days after the land­mark North Korean test. The range demon­strated by the nu­clear-ca­pa­ble Hwa­song-14 test shot would put tar­gets in­side Alaska within range of Py­ongyang’s mis­siles.

Mr. Mat­tis told re­porters that the net­work of radars, satel­lites, sen­sors and mis­sile in­ter­cep­tors per­formed flaw­lessly dur­ing the July 4 North Ko­rea test. “We were on duty. As you all know, the radars were up and op­er­at­ing. We knew it as soon as [Kim Jong-un] fired it that it had been fired. Lit­er­ally.”

Ship-based mis­sile in­ter­cep­tors based in the Pa­cific did not at­tempt to knock the North Korean mis­sile out of the sky be­cause the launch was only a test and did not tar­get any U.S. as­sets or al­lies in the re­gion.

Mr. Mat­tis and his Ja­panese coun­ter­part, To­momi Inada, agreed that the test “rep­re­sents an es­ca­la­tion and un­ac­cept­able provo­ca­tion that un­der­mines re­gional se­cu­rity and sta­bil­ity,” a De­fense Depart­ment read­out of their July 5 con­ver­sa­tion said.

Much un­cer­tainty still sur­rounds the mis­sile launched by the North, de­spite the fears in Wash­ing­ton and Seoul and the con­spic­u­ous cel­e­brat­ing by Mr. Kim and his aides. John Schilling, an aero­space engi­neer and an­a­lyst for the North Ko­rea news and anal­y­sis blog 38 North, said a few things have be­come clearer in the past 10 days.

“The emerg­ing re­al­ity is that the North has an un­re­li­able mis­sile that can reach Alaska or Hawaii with a sin­gle nu­clear war­head and would be lucky to hit even a city-sized tar­get,” Mr. Schilling wrote of the first wave of analy­ses eval­u­at­ing the Hwa­song-14’s ca­pa­bil­i­ties. “How­ever, with a year or two of ad­di­tional test­ing and de­vel­op­ment, it will likely be­come a mis­sile that can re­li­ably de­liver a sin­gle nu­clear war­head to tar­gets along the U.S. West Coast, pos­si­bly with enough ac­cu­racy to de­stroy soft mil­i­tary tar­gets like naval bases.”

Given an­other five years, he said, the North may be able to add de­coys and other mea­sures to try to thwart anti-mis­sile sys­tems.

“Let’s hope U.S. mis­sile de­fenses are up to that chal­lenge,” Mr. Schilling said.

Fund­ing surge

The Trump White House has cou­pled its tough rhetoric with bil­lions of dol­lars in ad­di­tional spend­ing to en­hance the U.S. mis­sile de­fense shield. Of­fi­cials from the Mis­sile De­fense Agency called for bud­get in­creases for three of the main pil­lars of the mis­sile shield: the THAAD mis­sile de­fense sys­tem, the Ground-Based Mid­course De­fense weapon and the ship-based Aegis Bal­lis­tic Mis­sile De­fense Sys­tem. All told, the Pen­ta­gon plans to in­vest $7.9 bil­lion on mis­sile de­fense, agency of­fi­cials say.

The Pen­ta­gon is look­ing to de­vote $1.5 bil­lion of those funds on the most am­bi­tious of the mis­sile de­fense pro­grams, the Ground-Based Mid­course De­fense weapon. There are 36 of those sys­tems in place in and around the con­ti­nen­tal United States. The White House wants to add at least eight more.

The weapon, which is de­signed to strike an in­com­ing bal­lis­tic mis­sile in midair — a mis­sion typ­i­cally de­scribed as “try­ing to hit a bul­let with a bul­let” — cleared a ma­jor de­vel­op­men­tal hur­dle in May with its first suc­cess­ful in­ter­cept of a live mis­sile. The mid­course de­fense test, in which an in­ter­cep­tor mis­sile fired from Van­den­berg Air Force Base in Cal­i­for­nia took out a bal­lis­tic mis­sile tar­get fired from the Rea­gan Test Site in the Mar­shall Is­lands, took place less than 24 hours after Py­ongyang car­ried out its midrange mis­sile test shot.

At the time, the De­fense Depart­ment in­sisted that the long­planned mis­sile drill was not a di­rect re­sponse North Ko­rea’s provoca­tive tests, but rather to en­sure the sys­tem was up to the task. Aside from the mid­course de­fense weapon, Pen­ta­gon of­fi­cials are seek­ing fund­ing in­creases for the THAAD sys­tem.

The THAAD sys­tem, which is de­signed pri­mar­ily to take out short- to mid-range bal­lis­tic mis­siles, has an­gered Py­ongyang and its al­lies in Bei­jing after Wash­ing­ton or­dered its de­ploy­ment into South Ko­rea. Pen­ta­gon ar­gues that the anti-bal­lis­tic mis­sile sys­tem is crit­i­cal to de­fend­ing the penin­sula, as well as the Ja­panese coast, from North Ko­rea’s ex­pand­ing long-range mis­sile ca­pa­bil­ity.

Bei­jing, how­ever, has long op­posed the weapon’s de­ploy­ment so close to China’s bor­ders. Chi­nese lead­ers claim the mis­siles could be used to mon­i­tor and take out its own bal­lis­tic mis­sile sites, along with tar­gets in­side North Ko­rea. But the mis­sile de­ploy­ment also has roiled po­lit­i­cal ten­sions in­side Seoul, with new South Korean Pres­i­dent Moon Jae-in vow­ing to re-tai­lor or ad­just its de­ploy­ment of the weapon sys­tem on the penin­sula.


The U.S. Mis­sile De­fense Agency said that a Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense sys­tem suc­cess­fully tracked and shot down a sim­u­lated in­ter­me­di­ate-range mis­sile like the one North Ko­rea is build­ing.

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