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

USA TODAY US Edition - - NEWS - Jim Michaels

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.

AFP/GETTY IMAGES

North Korea con­tin­ues to pro­voke in­ter­na­tional ire with its in­ces­sant mis­sile launches.

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