Posts Tagged Unha

Plugging U.S. Missile Defense Gaps | The Diplomat


Plugging U.S. Missile Defense Gaps

April 16, 2012

By Patrick Cronin, Matthew N. Giarra & Paul S. Giarra

 

It would be a mistake to assume that we dodged a bullet with the fiery end to North Korea’s Unha-3 missile launch at the Dongchang-ri facility one minute into its fight. In fact, this was a test flight, and while missile engineers always hope for fully successful flights, they also understand that there’s plenty to be learned from failures as well. The reality is that however this launch ended, it portends an exponential advance in North Korea’s military arsenal. While compared to modern solid-fueled rockets the liquid-fueled Unha-3 may be operationally impractical as an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, it provides a perfect test of the staging required for a long-range missile designed to carry a nuclear warhead. North Korea’s missile provocation transcends mere reputational costs to the United States and its allies – it poses real military threats that must be addressed through defensive military means.

A brief précis about the North’s existing missile programs helps to understand why a putative satellite launch poses such danger. North Korea’s Taepodong 1 is a two-stage ballistic missile with a maximum range of about 2,000 kilometers for a 1,000 kilogram payload. Its first stage appears similar to the No Dong rocket, and its second stage is probably similar to the Hwasong-6 rocket (both derived from the Soviet “Scud” family of missiles). 

With a 1,000 kilogram payload, the Taepodong 1 can notionally reach Japan and Taiwan. The Taepodong 2 is a two-stage ballistic missile with a maximum range of about 3,700 kilometers with a 1,000 kilogram payload. Its first stage is probably based on that of the Chinese Dongfeng 3 (CSS-2) rocket developed in the 1960s. The Taepodong 2 second stage may be identical to the first stage of the Taepodong 1 (i.e., the No Dong rocket). With a 1,000 kilogram payload, the Taepodong 2 can reach Guam and Taiwan.

Although few technical details are known about the Unha-3, recent photographs suggest that its dimensions may be identical to those of the Unha 2, which is a three-stage missile with a maximum range of about 6,000 kilometers for a 1,000 kilogram payload and about 10,000 kilometers for a 500 kilogram payload.  Its first stage is similar to that of the Taepodong 2.  Its second stage appears to be similar to the Soviet R-26 missile, and its third stage appears to be similar to the second stage of the Iranian Safir-2 rocket. 

With a 1,000 kilogram payload, the Unha-2 already can reach Guam and some locations in Alaska. Ominously, with a 500 kilogram payload, the Unha-2 can strike any location in Hawaii or Alaska, as well as the entire West Coast and most of the of the Northwestern United States (as far south and east as Colorado).

Because the trend lines are bad and the situation is getting worse, cutting food aid and pursuing U.N. Security Council resolutions are insufficient, even feeble, responses. They may provide some room for venting and thereby keep a lid on tensions, but they will do absolutely nothing to retard North Korea’s unrelenting ambition of building a long-range nuclear weapons program.   

North Korea’s missile exhibitionism has exposed serious tactical mistakes in United States policy, and a sober assessment of North Korea policy assumptions should therefore produce both a new strategic approach and strengthen the U.S. defensive posture in Northeast Asia.  

Tactical mistake number one is Washington’s fixation on the quixotic objective of persuading North Korea to negotiate away its limited plutonium stockpile sufficient for 6 to 10 weapons.  Coercive diplomacy works best when seeking limited goals, not one that threatens regime survival. However, we have persevered with a maximalist goal despite our lack of leverage or credibility when it comes to meting out punishment for noncompliance. 

Meanwhile, North Korea has in all probability used Houdini-like misdirection to expand a more advanced highly-enriched uranium (HEU) weapon program, one that would provide for a larger nuclear stockpile, be harder to detect, and be easier to proliferate off the peninsula. In November 2010, when visiting U.S. experts were shown the North’s surprising achievements in fashioning an HEU program, the United States simply doubled down on its preexisting determination to pursue denuclearization as the supreme policy objective. America’s staunch ally in South Korean President Lee Myung-bak’s government fully embraced the same approach. 

But without a realistic means of achieving denuclearization, our efforts only emit a smokescreen for North Korea’s ambitions. This false labor highlights a second tactical mistake: namely, becoming ever-more reliant on China to tamp down the North’s nuclear ambitions. Outsourcing the problem has presented China with a choice between pacifying a screaming baby (North Korea) and calming down a nonplussed parent (the United States). Given such a choice, China has found it easier to restrain the United States than North Korea. Consequently, China grows in importance, while U.S. influence is at risk of receding.

A third tactical mistake concerns the use of humanitarian assistance as a bargaining tool over the North’s nuclear programs. Humanitarian assistance should be given only on humanitarian grounds, and food provides no leverage vis-à-vis a goal vital to regime survival like a nuclear-armed missile. While the Obama administration wished to keep nutritional assistance separate from nuclear talks (and the food was a request from North Korea), the administration played into Pyongyang’s negotiating tactics by delaying humanitarian assistance that should have begun careful distribution months earlier. Meanwhile, the absence of humanitarian aid workers on the ground in North Korea is hurting malnourished and at-risk elements of North Korea and not the regime itself.

A fourth mistake on the part of U.S. negotiators has been to allow North Korea to wriggle out of a firm verbal commitment not to launch any missiles, including those that might send a satellite into orbit. We believe U.S. negotiators who say that they made this explicit in the processing of striking the moratorium on nuclear and missile tests. We can also point to the international consensus – including China and Russia – that existing U.N. Security Council resolutions also prohibit the missile program that the North has so flamboyantly rolled out in the past month. But giving the North sufficient grey area to claim it was all a misunderstanding and that a weather satellite is harmless has made the United States look downright foolish.

Finally, we are the on verge of a fifth tactical error by not following up our admonitions with serious action. Declaring the missile launch to be unacceptable does more harm than good if our only responses are rhetorical blandishments and unenforced sanctions. 

The result of these and other tactical errors is that the United States is gradually paying reputational costs and teaching North Korea to ignore our warnings. Consider the fact that only several weeks ago President Barack Obama put U.S. credibility in the hands of a multilateral nuclear summit in Seoul that was overshadowed by the missile diplomacy of a military regime led by a man still in his twenties. In announcing the missile launch as a breach of contract and unacceptable, the United States offered little evidence that it would pursue options that the regime in Pyongyang might regret. Instead, Washington continued to look to Beijing to crack down on its ally, an action China has simply not been willing or able to do.

The United States needs a fresh assessment and a new long-range strategy for ending the threats posed by North Korea. However, that strategy will take some years to develop and execute.  Given the rationale for doing something, there are dramatic near-term military technical and operational alternatives for action available to the United States.

It’s too risky to pursue overt regime change in North Korea to stem Pyongyang’s provocations.  However, the United States can defeat North Korea’s unacceptable missile program by developing low technology risk, boost-phase intercept capabilities based on proven Cold War propulsion technologies. Specifically, the United States and its allies can plug the gap in current missile defenses, which address mid-phase (SM-3 missiles) and terminal phase (PAC-3) but not missiles in their ascent or boost phase. Previous attempts to build boost-phase interceptors failed because of immature laser technologies, impractical operational concepts, and exorbitant cost. 

This gap allows nations such as North Korea and Iran to challenge the United States and regional allies and friends with their medium- and intermediate-range ballistic missile programs, and eventually with their intercontinental-range missiles. To fix this shortcoming, a high-speed (~3.5 to 5.0 km/s), two-stage, hit-to-kill interceptor missile, launched from a Predator-type UAV can defeat many of these ballistic missile threats in their boost phase.

A physics-based simulator can estimate the capabilities of a high-altitude, long endurance UAV-launched boost-phase interceptor (HALE BPI) launched from an altitude of approximately 60,000 feet.  Enabled by the revolution in UAVs, this proposed boost-phase interceptor, based on off-the-shelf technology, can be deployed in operationally feasible stations on the periphery of North Korea.

Using the HALE BPI planning software developed specifically to be easy to manipulate by non-technical operational and strategic planners, initial conservative estimates suggest that HALE BPI is technically and operationally viable against a range of realistic North Korean missile threats to Japan, Guam, and Hawaii.

The next time North Korea wants to flaunt its international commitments and thereby place in jeopardy regional security, it should know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the United States and its allies will shoot down that missile. Adding serious boost-phase intercept capabilities, while strengthening U.S. allied interoperability, can make the difference between advancing a dangerous North Korean capability and offering a stern lesson to Pyongyang about the resolve of the United States and its allies.

 Plugging U.S. Missile Defense Gaps | The Diplomat.

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North Korean Rocket Said to Fail Moments After Liftoff – NYTimes.com


North Korean Rocket Said to Fail Moments After Liftoff

David Guttenfelder/Associated Press

A news conference on the rocket launching in Pyongyang, North Korea.

By CHOE SANG-HUN and RICK GLADSTONE

Published: April 12, 2012

 

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea defied international warnings of censure and further isolation on Friday, launching a rocket that the United States and its allies called a provocative pretext for developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that might one day carry a nuclear warhead.

Bobby Yip/Reuters

The Unha-3 rocket at the West Sea Satellite launch site in Pyongyang on April 8.

But in what was a major embarrassment to the North and its young new leader, the rocket disintegrated moments after the launching, and American and Japanese officials said its remnants fell harmlessly into the sea.

After hours of silence, North Korea’s state-run news media announced that the satellite the rocket had been carrying “failed to enter its preset orbit.” Scientists and technicians were “looking into the cause of the failure,” said the terse statement from the reclusive North Korea leadership, which had trumpeted the event as a showcase of patriotic pride meant to exalt the 100th anniversary of the birthday of the country’s founder, Kim Il-sung, grandfather of the new leader, Kim Jung-un. Only two days earlier, North Korea had elevated the grandson to the highest levels of state power.

It was the first time the North has publicly acknowledged a long-range missile or satellite failure.

Officials from Japan, South Korea and the United States, which had been monitoring for signs of the launching, condemned it as a belligerent act that endangered regional stability — even though it had failed. American officials said food aid that they had planned to send to North Korea to help feed its malnourished population would be suspended.

“North Korea is only further isolating itself by engaging in provocative acts, and is wasting its money on weapons and propaganda displays while the North Korean people go hungry,” the White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said in a statement on Thursday evening, which was Friday morning in Asia. The United States, Mr. Carney said, “remains vigilant in the face of North Korean provocations and is fully committed to the security of our allies in the region.”

The consequences of such a public relations fiasco were unclear for the young Mr. Kim or the elders who have surrounded and groomed him, and the conspicuous absence of a prompt explanation for what had gone awry deepened the mystery.

“Obviously, the rocket launch is pretty embarrassing for Kim Jung-un and North Korea,” said Tate Nurkin, a director at Jane’s Strategic Advisory Service, in an e-mailed reaction. “North Korea is all about ceremony and stature and grand, symbolic gestures.”

One Obama administration official suggested that the failure might speed the North’s determination to conduct a nuclear test — the country’s third — “simply to show that it can.” Test preparations are under way, satellite photographs suggest.

A remaining unknown is whether a test would be designed to show off a new weapon made from highly enriched uranium, the newest fuel the North is experimenting with, rather than the plutonium bombs that it tested, with mixed success, in 2006 and 2009.

In Japan, government officials said the three-stage rocket, which the North had said was carrying a communications satellite, appeared to fly for more than a minute after it was launched at 7:40 a.m. local time, then broke up at an altitude of 400,000 feet and tumbled into several pieces into international waters in the sea west of the Korean Peninsula. In Washington, the Pentagon said in a statement that the first stage of the rocket fell into the sea about 103 miles west of Seoul, and the remaining stages “were assessed to have failed and no debris fell on land.” It said the debris had never been a threat.

The launching has been politically problematic for the Obama administration, which only weeks ago completed an agreement with the North to provide food aid in return for Pyongyang’s agreement to suspend uranium enrichment and refrain from test launchings of long-range missiles. The administration had portrayed the deal as a promising if fragile advance that would allow nuclear monitors back into the country after years when the nuclear program continued unchecked.

Underscoring the political delicacy of North Korea in an election year, Mitt Romney, the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, said the launching illustrated President Obama’s strategy of appeasement. “This incompetence from the Obama administration has emboldened the North Korean regime and undermined the security of the United States and its allies,” he said in a statement.

The administration says it specifically told the North Korean negotiators that the deal was off if satellites were launched, since it considers such launchings a pretext for missile tests. But that requirement was not put in writing. Critics questioned the administration’s decision to go ahead without a written commitment, given the North Koreans’ history of breaking international agreements. But the administration insisted that it had not fallen into the same trap as past administrations — which made concessions only to have North Korea renege on deals — because the United States had not yet delivered the food aid.

A senior White House official said the failure of the rocket launching would hurt North Korea’s effort to sell weapons — somewhat easing the fears of Pyongyang as a nuclear proliferator. It also proved the effectiveness of the heavy sanctions in place on North Korea, this official said, since the measures have deprived the country of access to metals and other technical components for a viable ballistic-missile program.

The rocket, called the Unha-3, blasted off from the Soehae launching site near North Korea’s western border with China, at 7:39 a.m., the statement from North Korea said.

In Tokyo, Japan’s government spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Osamu Fujimura, said that after the object appeared to break apart soon after takeoff, the Japanese prime minister met with his national security advisers, but that nothing had been detected approaching Japanese territory. Mr. Fujimura called on the Japanese people “to go about your daily lives,” saying there was no reason to panic.

North Korea had said the rocket would fly southward, carrying its Kwangmyongsong-3 communications satellite, and had insisted that the launching was for peaceful purposes.

South Korea, Japan and the Philippines — the countries near the North Korean rocket’s projected trajectory — were on heightened alert in case the launching went awry, potentially endangering their citizens or property. Airlines and ships had been ordered to stay away from the rocket’s trajectory and the splashdown zones of its debris.

The North’s decision to proceed with the launching came despite a rising chorus of international warnings, including admonishments from China.

The United States and its allies had warned that they would take North Korea to the United Nations Security Council for a censure and probably further tighten sanctions already imposed after previous missile tests.

North Korea over the years has repeatedly launched rockets that blew up and failed to send satellite payloads into orbit.

In August 1998, it fired its first long-range rocket, the Taepodong-1. It scared Japan but its third stage fell harmlessly into the Pacific Ocean instead of delivering a satellite into space. The troubles continued in July 2006 when the second test of its long-range missile, the Taepodong-2, ended in an explosion just seconds after liftoff.

After the failed test, military experts and administration officials expressed relief, some calling the North Koreans inept.

Then, in April 2009, North Korea tried again, launching still another long-range rocket. The first two stages appeared to work, but the third stage never separated.

The North had said that its previous launchings of satellites, in 1998 and 2009, succeeded and that it put two satellites into orbit that broadcast patriotic songs.

But on Friday, the North’s Central TV interrupted its regular programs to report the failure, indicating that the government was not withholding the political embarrassment from its people, said the South Korean national news agency Yonhap, which monitored North Korean news media.

Setbacks are considered a normal part of rocket development, and are instructive to engineers if they can identify the problem and fix it in future models.

But after 14 years of failures, the North Koreans have a long way to go before perfecting a vehicle reliable enough to routinely put satellites into space or become the basis for missiles that could wage intercontinental war, rocketry experts say.

 North Korean Rocket Said to Fail Moments After Liftoff – NYTimes.com.

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