Shooting down every missile might not be practical for U.S.
N. Korea has been aiming high and into open seas, not at USA or allies
A successful U.S. test strike against an intermediate-range missile Wednesday raised questions about the feasibility of the U.S. military intercepting a North Korean missile test as a means of deterring the country from provocative launches.
Experts said that may not be a practical option since most North Korean missile tests have been aimed at the open seas, including a missile launched to fly over Japan on Tuesday. The missile defense systems are designed to defend U.S. territory or that of an ally from incoming missiles.
“We don’t have the capability to shoot down every missile every time one is launched,” said David Maxwell, associate director of Georgetown University’s Center for Security Studies. “We have no need to defend the Pacific Ocean.”
The missile that crossed Japan, the first such launch, may have been difficult to intercept. It flew nearly 1,700 miles and reached an altitude of 340 miles.
The lofty trajectories of recent North Korean launches may complicate efforts to intercept the missiles, said Ian Williams, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The trajectories are useful for North Korea to test its missiles’ range without striking foreign territory. A missile aimed at a real target would fly on a flatter path.
U.S. and allied radar systems can quickly determine where a missile is headed and whether it poses a threat to populated areas. The systems can track test launches, but there may not be interceptors in a position to shoot down projectiles if they are headed for the open seas.
“Ballistic missiles are easy (for radar) to see,” Williams said. U.S. radar systems are very effective at determining where a missile will land based on its speed, direction and other information, he said.
Some analysts said intercepting a North Korean missile test, if the circumstances allowed it, could be an effective military response to North Korea, which consistently has defied sanctions designed to urge it to abandon its nuclear weapons program.
“It may be that this is a natural next step, to do something different,” said Thomas Karako, an analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Tensions between the United States and North Korea have been building in recent weeks.
“The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “Talking is not the answer!”
North Korea showed no sign of backing down.
The official Korean Central News Agency reported Wednesday that the Hwasong-12, the first missile the nation fired over Japan, was “guided” by leader Kim Jong Un.
The agency said the launch was “part of the muscle-flexing ” in reaction to military drills by the United States and South Korea, “in disregard” for the North Korean regime’s “meaningful and crucial warning.”
The U.S. Missile Defense Agency said Wednesday it had conducted a successful test in which a medium-range ballistic missile was intercepted off the coast of Hawaii.
The USS John Paul Jones detected and tracked a missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai with its onboard radar before intercepting it with SM-6 missiles, the agency said.
The key components of America’s missile defense arsenal include ground based interceptors designed to defend the United States, ship-based Aegis interceptors and the THAAD or Terminal High Altitude Air Defense System.
The THAAD system intercepts missiles as they re-enter the atmosphere. The Aegis system is designed to intercept missiles that are “mid-course” or outside the Earth’s atmosphere. The United States has deployed the THAAD system in South Korea and has Aegis-equipped ships in the region. Japan’s self-defense forces also have ships equipped with Aegis radar systems.
The lofty trajectories of recent North Korean launches may complicate efforts to intercept the missiles.
North Korea continues to provoke international ire with its incessant missile launches.