U. S. rac­ing to quash N. Korean nuke threat

Mis­sile de­fense arse­nal is be­ing built on land, sea, air and space

USA TODAY International Edition - - FRONT PAGE - Oren Dorell @ oren­dorell USA TO­DAY

North Korea’s rapid march to de­velop a nu­clear- armed bal­lis­tic mis­sile ca­pa­ble of strik­ing the United States has spurred the U. S. mil­i­tary and Congress to ramp up ef­forts to counter the threat.

The tech­no­log­i­cal race is hap­pen­ing on the ground, at sea, in the air and in space. But mil­i­tary plan­ners say the great­est ben­e­fit of the mis­sile de­fense ef­fort is to de­ter North Korea from con­tem­plat­ing a strike.

“Mis­sile de­fense buys you time and opens win­dows,” said Todd Har­ri­son, di­rec­tor of the Aerospace Se­cu­rity Project at the Cen­ter for Se­cu­rity and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies. “The way you pro­tect your­self from a mis­sile at­tack is through de­ter­rence. You show your ad­ver­sary that you can hold them off and strike back at them.”

North Korea’s lat­est mis­sile launch July 4 was its first in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile. The Hwa­song- 14 had a max­i­mum range of more than 4,100 miles, mean­ing it could hit tar­gets in Alaska but not the U. S. main­land or the larger is­lands of Hawaii in the Pa­cific Ocean.

Sur­veil­lance of the mis­sile left un­clear whether it re- en­tered the Earth’s at­mos­phere, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency re­ported.

The North Korean govern­ment said its mis­siles can hit any­where in the world with a nu­clear war­head, but the U. S. govern­ment doubts the regime of Kim Jong Un has de­vel­oped a minia­tur­ized war­head or de­liv­ery ve­hi­cle needed to ac­com­plish that.

North Korea may be only a year or so away from that feat, ac­cord­ing to U. S. es­ti­mates, which is

The North may be only a year away from be­ing able to strike any­where in the world.

why the Pen­tagon is step­ping up its anti- mis­sile pro­gram.

Last Tues­day, the U. S. mil­i­tary in­ter­cepted a sim­u­lated in­ter­me­di­ate- range bal­lis­tic mis­sile us­ing the Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fense ( THAAD) sys­tem sim­i­lar to one be­ing de­ployed in South Korea.

The test was the first by THAAD against a mis­sile that is faster and more dif­fi­cult to tar­get than shorter- range mis­siles.

In an­other first, the U. S. Mis­sile De­fense Agency used a ground- based in­ter­cep­tor launched from a silo in Van­der­berg Air Force Base in Cal­i­for­nia to shoot down a U. S.- launched mock in­ter­con­ti­nen­tal bal­lis­tic mis­sile fired from Kwa­jalein Atoll in the Pa­cific in May.

The United States has 36 such in­ter­cep­tors de­ployed and plans to have 44 in place by the end of 2017, based at Van­den­burg and in Fort Greely, Alaska.

In 2013, Congress re­quired the De­fense De­part­ment to re­search a third site for ground- based in­ter­cep­tors to de­fend the U. S. East Coast in ad­di­tion to the si­los in Alaska and Cal­i­for­nia.

This year, House Repub­li­cans pro­posed that the Pen­tagon con­duct re­search and de­vel­op­ment on space- based mis­sile de­fense in­ter­cep­tors — a ver­sion of the “Star Wars” sys­tem Pres­i­dent Rea­gan cham­pi­oned in the 1980s as a de­ter­rent against Soviet nu­clear mis­siles.

Also this year, De­fense Sec­re­tary James Mat­tis or­dered the Pen­tagon’s Mis­sile De­fense Agency to re­view the na­tion’s over­all mis­sile de­fense strat­egy.

North Korea’s nu­clear- ca­pa­ble mis­sile arse­nal in­cludes an es­ti­mated 1,000 mis­siles, plus hun­dreds of thou­sands of con­ven­tional rock­ets aimed at U. S. and its al­lies’ mil­i­tary and civil­ian tar­gets in South Korea, Ja­pan, Guam and at sea in the re­gion.

Ar­rayed against that force is a lay­ered de­fense of short-, medium- and long- range in­ter­cep­tors. Those sys­tems are be­ing up­graded to make them faster, with more range and greater ac­cu­racy.

Here is what else is in the works:

NEXT- GENERATION SATELLITES To­day’s satel­lite tech­nol­ogy rec­og­nizes a mis­sile launch and a gen­eral “fan- shaped” area it is likely to tar­get, said re­tired lieu­tenant gen­eral Henry “Trey” Ober­ing III, a for­mer head of the Mis­sile De­fense Agency who is now ex­ec­u­tive vice pres­i­dent at Booz Allen Hamil­ton.

Satellites “do not pro­vide pre­ci­sion track­ing and tar­get­ing to­day,” Ober­ing said.

The Mis­sile De­fense Agency plans to launch a “con­stel­la­tion” con­sist­ing of mul­ti­ple small satellites. These would aug­ment a se- ries of ground- based mon­i­tors and pro­vide enough track­ing in­for­ma­tion to tar­get threat­en­ing mis­siles while they are out­side the at­mos­phere with one of the mil­i­tary’s in­ter­cep­tors.

The new satellites would en­able mul­ti­ple at­tacks on the same threat­en­ing mis­sile if nec­es­sary, Ober­ing said.

MUL­TI­PLE- WAR­HEAD KILL VE­HI­CLES The Mis­sile De­fense Agency also is de­vel­op­ing mul­ti­ple kill ve­hi­cles that would al­low each ground- based in­ter­cep­tor to at­tack mul­ti­ple mis­sile threats, said Kingston Reif, di­rec­tor for dis­ar­ma­ment and threat re­duc­tion pol­icy at the Arms Con­trol As­so­ci­a­tion.

The draw­back of such de­fense sys­tems, Reif said, is that they could in­flu­ence the types of weapons that far more pow­er­ful ad­ver­saries Rus­sia and China de­velop. That would lead to an “in­creased risk of arms rac­ing,” he said.

SPACE- BASED IN­TER­CEP­TORS The mil­i­tary is re­search­ing chem­i­cal rock­ets or lasers that would fire at mis­siles from or­bit­ing satellites.

Ac­cord­ing to a study by the Cen­ter for In­ter­na­tional and Se­cu­rity Stud­ies, such a scheme would re­quire at least 30 satellites for an area the size of North Korea be­cause the satellites would be in range only for a short while on each low- al­ti­tude orbit.

Each satel­lite could be con­fig­ured to carry mul­ti­ple rock­ets and to de­fend it­self from any­thing North Korea would use to try counter it, Ober­ing said. “Even­tu­ally these space- based in­ter­cep­tors can be re­placed with a laser,” he said.

LASERS Ober­ing, who heads the di­rected en­ergy team at Booz Allen Hamil­ton, led the Mis­sile De­fense Agency in 2010, when it used a chem­i­cal laser car­ried on a Boe­ing 747 to shoot down a mis­sile in a test.

That pro­gram ended be­cause the De­fense De­part­ment judged it im­prac­ti­cal: The laser’s ef­fec­tive range was too short, the air­craft flew too low, and the pro­gram was ex­pen­sive.

New solid- state elec­tric and hy­brid elec­tric- chem­i­cal lasers are now smaller, more pow­er­ful and lighter, and they can be car­ried on high- al­ti­tude drones that can pa­trol at 60,000 feet above North Korea for days dur­ing a cri­sis, Ober­ing said.

The United States is about five years from de­vel­op­ing such a weapon, which could at­tack North Korean mis­siles dur­ing their most vul­ner­a­ble boost phase, when they’re mov­ing rel­a­tively slowly and have yet to sep­a­rate into mul­ti­ple parts, he said.

“It’s based on how much money we’re putting into that pro­gram,” he said.

“Mis­sile de­fense buys you time and opens win­dows. ... You show your ad­ver­sary you can hold them off and strike back at them.” Todd Har­ri­son, Cen­ter for Se­cu­rity and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies

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