North Korea’s failed attempt last week to launch three short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan is no reason to relax, as some have opined. A nuclear attack on America is still an urgent concern.
Many also were surprised when our Intelligence Community recently reported that North Korea has up to 60 nuclear weapons that can fit on its ballistic missiles. They had assumed North Korea was still only in the nuclear weapon development and testing phase.
North Korea also has indisputably demonstrated it can strike Guam (U.S. territory), Hawaii, Alaska, and even the continental U.S. with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).
Some still dismiss this urgent threat, claiming North Korea still must prove its ability to reenter the earth’s atmosphere. But it does not take a genius to imagine how its acknowledged nuclear weapons can be used to attack America without such “reentry vehicles.”
A ballistic missile is only one way that such a nuclear weapon can be delivered. For example, it could be shielded on a cargo ship and detonated in one of our ports — perhaps by Islamic terrorists hired by North Korea’s ally Iran. Or by small aircraft that penetrate our borders.
I hope we have defenses against such all too real threats. But hope is not a strategy — and I’m unsure of our plans to counter them.
Then there’s the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) threat from a nuclear detonation above the atmosphere, eliminating the need for reentry vehicles.
Thirteen years ago, Russian generals told EMP Commissioners that Russia “accidentally” informed North Korea on how to build lightweight “super EMP” weapons, which if detonated above the atmosphere over America would be devastating. Such nuclear weapons have relatively low explosive yields, like those previously tested by North Korea.
Such a high altitude burst would cause no immediate damage, but its EMP could shut down our unhardened nationwide electric power grid indefinitely. The failure of our “just-in-time economy” would lead to starvation, disease, and societal collapse — and in turn to the death of most Americans within a year.
The press and various apologists generally ignore that North Korea long ago demonstrated this ability to send America back to the 19th century, without that agrarian society that supported a population of about 10-percent of today’s. In 2012 and 2016, North Korea launched satellites that orbit regularly over America at altitudes that could produce this ominous result.
Today, a similar satellite carrying one of its 60 or so nukes could detonate it on its first orbit over the United States — say over Omaha to put an EMP over the entire continental U.S.
Our defense against this possibility is currently problematic. Our homeland ballistic missile defense (BMD) sites have limited capability and our sea-based Aegis BMD ships can defend against such an attack, if their crews are trained and prepared.
However, two recent Aegis BMD ship mishaps near North Korea caused more U.S. deaths than on the battlefield this year, leading me to wonder if that training requirement can be met to assure a defense against such an EMP attack. We’ve had four mishaps in the Pacific this year. Clearly, our Navy needs to get its act together.
Thus, we need to get truly effective defenses as quickly as possible. As reported previously, we should revive the most advanced cost-effective BMD system concepts pursued by President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI), which were scuttled by the Clinton administration and have since been ignored.
In the near-term, we can and should deploy defenses that can be launched from high altitude long enduring (HALE) unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), as also discussed previously. Such systems are well developed and battle seasoned.
I understand from Dr. Gregory Canavan, a Los Alamos scientist and expert on BMD system capabilities, that General Atomics (GA) claims that commercially available interceptors can be made operational on its Predator and Reaper HALE UAVs within 6-12 months. And more advanced interceptors can be developed and made operational in 1-4 years. “The powers that be” should put these ideas to the test at an accelerated pace!
Moreover, Dr. Canavan argues that, as an interim measure, we should immediately deploy existing battle-proven interceptors on fighter aircraft to patrol off North Korea’s shores while we develop more cost-effective capabilities.
He proposes to employ the Advanced Medium-Range Air-to-Air Missile (AMRAAM), normally used by fighter aircraft deployed by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and 25 allied nations to attack other aircraft. In this case, the AMRAAM would be used to attack the slowly rising North Korean ballistic missiles within the atmosphere.
Given the imminent threat, we should begin such operations immediately and upgrade them as soon as possible with improved interceptors for more cost-effective HALE UAV operations. A demonstration of this capability could have helpful deterrent effects.
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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