For several days, news reports have indicated that North Korea is preparing for another ballistic missile launch, this time from its west coast and perhaps an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that could reach U.S. territory all the way to the continental United States.
President Trump has ordered that we prepare to shoot it down, according to John Gizzi, Newsmax’s White House Correspondent.
While considering the possible targets for such a North Korean launch, the thought should not be lost that North Korea has previously launched satellites from its west coast site, southward, to approach the United States from over the South Polar regions.
Our missile defenses are not well prepared to shoot down such a launch on its first pass over the United States. They have been stationed and prepared to engage ICBMs approaching the United States over the northern polar regions.
Such a “Southern” ICBM attack is not a new idea. The Soviet Union developed such a system in the 1960s, called a Fractional Orbital Bombardment System, or FOBS. It was intended to carry a nuclear weapon in low earth orbit to re-enter the earth’s atmosphere and attack U.S. from the South, thereby avoiding our ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems, then focused on a Soviet attack from over the North Pole.
And guess what? Our current homeland BMD systems (in Alaska and California) are also focused on attacks from over the northern polar regions.
Perhaps we should regroup a bit?
While our Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) can be helpful in defending South Korea, Japan, and Guam, it would not be of great value as a terminal defense of the United States.
On the other hand, our sea-based Aegis BMD system, developed primarily as a Theater Missile Defense (TMD) system, can defend a much larger area and is inherently capable of shooting down ICBMs as it demonstrated in 2008 by shooting down a dying satellite that was traveling faster than an ICBM.
Moreover, it should be noted that North Korea has launched its satellites (in 2012 and 2016 and, as far as I know, still orbiting over the United States every 90 minutes) from its western launch site to avoid overflying land in its early trajectory.
North Korea’s recent emphasis on employing electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to attack our electric power grid should not be lost as we contemplate North Korea’s intended message should the currently anticipated launch occur.
And hopefully the president is not forgetting the potential role of Aegis BMD Destroyers and Cruisers and has directed the Navy to be prepared to defend against such a launch to North Korea’s south.
After a review of our missile defense options in 2008, President George W. Bush chose Aegis BMD as the system of choice to shoot down a threatening satellite. President Trump may need to repeat that performance.
Ambassador Henry F. (Hank) Cooper, Chairman of High Frontier and an acknowledged expert on strategic and space national security issues, was President Ronald Reagan's Chief Negotiator at the Geneva Defense and Space Talks with the Soviet Union and Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) Director during the George H.W. Bush administration. Previously, he served as the Assistant Director of the Arms Control and Disarmament Agency, Deputy Assistant USAF Secretary and Science Advisor to the Air Force Weapons Laboratory. In the private sector he was Chairman of Applied Research Associates, a high technology company; member of the technical staff of Jaycor, R&D Associates and Bell Telephone Laboratories; a Senior Associate of the National Institute for Public Policy; and Visiting Fellow at the Heritage Foundation. He received B.S. and M.S. degrees from Clemson and a PhD from New York University, all in Mechanical Engineering. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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