Joshua PollackCan GMD Stop North Korea’s ICBMs?

Update | April 14, 9:46 pm. AFP reports that South Korean news channel YTN has described a series of four static engine tests earlier this year for what it calls North Korea’s KN-08 ICBM. Dong-a Ilbo reported on a static engine test late last year. Korean speakers can view the YTN video and read the transcript.

My article on North Korea’s emerging ICBM force is now online at (As always, these are my personal views only.) Go read it first. The bottom line is, we have bigger problems than the upcoming TD-2 launch.

It’s striking that Pyongyang, which presumably cannot afford to build a large fleet of intercontinental missiles, has opted to pursue the ICBM course in the face of the American missile defense deployment in Alaska and California (the Ground-based Midcourse Defense, or GMD). That decision implies some real confidence in North Korea’s countermeasure technology.

Creating effective countermeasures is not necessarily trivial; then again, it’s probably much less of a challenge than building the main components of a working ICBM in the first place. Just how much help the North Koreans received in this area in the 1990s from scientists and engineers at Russia’s Makeyev Design Bureau – the source of R-27 technology – remains unknown. However, the 2010 BMDR Report reported that “proliferators” were deploying countermeasures, and treated “the transfer of advanced capabilities” from other countries as a serious and ongoing problem.

One possible response to the appearance of the new North Korean ICBM, whenever it is finally deemed operational, will be to leave current missile defense deployments unchanged, on the grounds that they anticipated the new development. This stance would be consistent with the claims of two administrations that the GMD system is capable of defending America against the emerging threat.

Another approach – one urged by Rep. Michael Turner in recent HASC hearings – will be to add more interceptors. But if existing interceptors can’t beat the countermeasures, adding more units won’t help. Only if the North Koreans were try to overcome missile defense through sheer numbers of weapons, not though countermeasures, would there be grounds for a numerical strategy.

Against a limited but relatively sophisticated threat, quality counts much more than quantity. It’s risky to put too much faith in sheer numbers.


  1. John Schilling (History)

    “Against a limited but relatively sophisticated threat, quality counts much more than quantity.”

    This is as true of the threat posed to North Korea’s ICBMs by the US GMD system, as it is of the threat posed to the US by the North Korean ICBMs. That said, numbers count for a lot. If existing interceptors can’t beat the countermeasures, one solution is enough additional units to implement Simon de Montfort’s classic solution to the dilemma.

    I recently went through approximate numbers on another threat, but the bottom line is that a dozen or so GMD interceptors would allow the United States to do shoot-look-shoot against the entire decoy warm of a single-warhead ICBM. Kill them all, kill them all again, and *then* let God sort them out.

    Against a peer or almost-peer competitor like Russia or China, this is a recipe for losing an arms race. US vs. DPRK, that one we can win without too much difficulty.

    • joshua (History)

      That was, I believe, the rationale of the Multiple Kill Vehicle program, which was cancelled for cost and performance reasons. In the absence of the MKV, one could easily imagine some difficulties — large numbers of balloon decoys in the target suite, for example.

    • John Schilling (History)

      One can easily imagine such things, but actually doing them is harder. By the time one has, e.g., figured out how to deploy large numbers of balloons without tearing them apart, matched the transient thermal signature of a heavy warhead, and so forth, you may find that the weight of the decoys has ballooned from ounces to tens of pounds.

      I am reluctant to ascribe to North Korean missileers, capabilities substantially in advance of what the British demonstrated with Chevaline. And if they ever do manage such a feat, we will presumably know about it through their testing some time before they have an operationally useful system.

    • joshua (History)

      I take it, then, that you are of the “stand pat” school.

      I don’t know how hard it is, exactly. But if the Wikipedia account of Chevaline is at all accurate, what we’re talking about is well south of that level of sophistication — an MRV system with a maneuvering bus designed to hide a pair of RVs inside a 150-mi.-long “tube” of decoys, chaff and whatnot vs. perhaps something resembling the flock of inflatable objects used in the first few EKV flyby tests.

      Chevaline was designed to overcome the nuclear-tipped interceptors around Moscow. Against any hit-to-kill system, I have to think that would be overkill.

      But what might have come along with the R-27, or later, I just don’t know.

    • John Schilling (History)

      Nuclear vs. hit-to-kill is largely irrelevant, I think: the kill radius of exoatmospheric nuclear interceptors is too small to catch multiple targets even in the same “swarm”. One credible decoy soaks up one interceptor, nuclear or hit-to-kill. And you need the chaff regardless, or the kinematics of decoy deployment will give up the game.

      I do believe that a credible first-generation decoy (against combined X-band radar and multi-band IR discrimination) will come in at many tens of pounds, particularly when the deployment hardware and so forth is included. Which means a handful of decoys, not a vast swarm, on a first-generation ICBM.

      Against that threat, we don’t need to reveal or deploy much beyond what we already have to establish both a credible deterrent and a useful defense. So yes, “stand pat”. Which should be understood to include ongoing classified R&D, contingency planning, and closely monitoring Iranian and North Korean test activity. We can resurrect MKV if and when we need it.

      If the day ever comes when we can’t beat North Korea at that game, for a relative pittance, it will be because North Korea isn’t the nation it is now. Hopefully that will be a positive development.

    • Allen Thomson (History)

      > testing

      It would be interesting and possibly informative to know if the DPRK has any longish vacuum drop towers/shafts.

    • CuriousReader (History)

      For those of us not as erudite or schooled as yourself just what was Simon de Montfort’s solution? And, what was the dilemma? I ask only because wikipedia won’t serve up the answer.

    • joshua (History)

      “Kill them all. God will recognize his own.”

      Distinguishing heretics from the faithful.

      I’m unsure of whether the quote is properly attributed.

  2. Bruno (History)

    I got nothing against UCS, but I am not quite sure how and if DPRK would have access to even simple countemeasures technology. Everything is simple on paper and, arguably, copying and even perfecting the RD-214 paves the way for bigger achievements. But, hell, effective countermeasures are a bit of something else. I am not saying that GMD will be the best ever in discriminating the warhead from the cortege in fact it might well have trouble doing it but everything points out to the fact that it will be capable of doing so. Eventually, I agree with John’s comment : we are not talking about very sophisticated CM/penaids but rather about limited or even unwanted bits and pieces of stages accompaying the WH.

    • joshua (History)

      We can only wish and hope they’ll make it that easy for us.

  3. Tal Inbar (History)

    Ah….that old “countermeasures” report from 2000…. the memories…

    The paper can tolerate everything. I still wonder about the Iranian and NK countermeasures that could “easily defeat” any missile defense system, and are “clearly” within reach of any country that could produce ballistic missiles.

    Amazing that in 2012 some people here still seriously (?) speaking on NK countermeasures, that would be installed on its (non existing) ICBM, equipped with (non existing) operational re-entry vehicle, which contains a small but powerful (non existing) nuclear warhead.

    • joshua (History)

      I think it’s time to take all of the above seriously. The DoD does. The NKs do. And it’s fundamentally just a matter of time.

  4. yousaf (History)

    Important topic Josh.

    As you say, any country that can build a ICBM can make simple decoys: even solid-motor chuff hiccuped a past GMD test.

    NK can surely make chuff.

    Back in 2000 the CIA said roughly the same thing:

    As for missile defense’s mythology of being a deterrent, pls see my Bulletin piece:

    If despite all that, we still wanted a missile defense we could opt for a drone or sea-based boost-phase as Ted and Dick Garwin suggested way back.

    Those actually stand a chance in hell of working.

    Midcourse is about the worst idea. But there’s a ton of money in it, of course.

    Don’t get me wrong — I think protection from tactical battlefield rockets may make sense.

    But protection from nuclear missiles is a fantasy. e.g.:

    or Pavel’s:

    Importantly, the problem with missile defense against strategic missiles is not only technical, but also conceptual.

  5. Stephen Young (History)

    Thanks for the link to Countermeasures, Joshua. I would note, it is not UCS – on not just UCS – saying countries can develop them. The 1999 National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) on the ballistic missile threat to the United States noted, “countries developing ballistic missiles would also develop various responses to US theater and national defenses.” and “these countries could develop countermeasures… by the time they flight test their missiles.”

  6. Anon (History)

    If we had REAL faith in our BMD system we would not care if NK made an ICBM.


  7. Mark Gubrud (History)

    We should not think of decoys being made to match the signature of the real warhead. We should think of the real warhead being hidden inside a decoy, and all the decoys being made to look different.

    Thermal signatures can be randomized by randomizing emissivity/reflectivity spectra. They will be different in day, night and at different times as the threat cloud passes through the boundary between day and night. Also, warheads can be insulated and wrapped in cold shrouds, and heat sources can be put inside decoys.

    Neither the X-band nor any other radar can look inside a thin layer of metal, such as an aluminzed mylar balloon. Multispectral IR is no use when the signatures are all randomly different anyway.

    If North Korea can build ICBMs – and yes, it is a matter of time, but still probably enough time that we may be able to persuade them not to do it – they will achieve deterrence. Even if you think it might be possible to discriminate or intercept all credible decoys, it will not be possible to have complete confidence in that.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Mark: “If” ?

      The only difference between a “Space launcher” Unha-3 and an ICBM is precision guidance of a slightly different sort, though largely the same, and a sufficiently hardened payload interface for the heavier ICBM RV vs the existing satellite payload.

      And we don’t, that I know of, know enough about either the guidance system or third stage’s interface ring to rule out those capabilities already being present.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)

      The satellite is probably not that heavy. My understanding is that the Unha-3 does not have the capability to deliver a 1-ton payload to the continental US. Possibly Hawaii or the Aleutians. But I have not independently estimated this.

      They would also, of course, need to develop and test an RV.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Where does this “1-ton payload” come from? I know it’s used in some arms control circles for a threshold weapon size, but we assume NK (who have, after all, test fired 2 nuclear weapons) can design something at least as compact as Iran did, and Iran’s relatively primitive R265 HEU design is more like order of 150 kilograms including casing and fuze.

      The RV might roughly double that, but that’s still 300 kg not 1,000.

      Wright gives a 2-stage TD-2 650 kg throw weight to 9,000 km and 3-stage 11,000 km with same payload ( ).

      They have various tested reentry vehicles. A couple of triconics, etc. It’s not clear if they were designed for (much tougher) ICBM reentry velocities and profiles. But they have the basic know-how. And appear to be roughly big enough.

    • Johnboy (History)

      GWH: “Iran’s relatively primitive R265 HEU design”


      That should be:
      The ALLEGED Iranian R265 HEU design
      should it not?

      After all, the only “evidence” for that design is the five-page (English language, note) document retrieved from the infamous Laptop Of Death.

      A document that nobody outside the CIA has ever seen in its original form, and which AFAIK has never been given to the Iranians despite repeated requests from them.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)

      As I said, I don’t have independent estimates either for the payload/range tradeoff for Unha-3 or the mass of a North Korean nuclear warhead, but as to the latter, you seem to be suggesting an estimate on the low end.

      However, I note that you are not challenging the substance of my comment, but rather, distracting from the essential point: antisimulation. It is not a matter of decoys needing to replicate the signature of warheads; rather, it is a version of the shell game, hiding the warhead inside a large number of “shells” which can be as light as aluminized mylar balloons.

      Aluminized mylar is pretty amazing stuff. Wrap layers of it around the warhead, with vacuum between the layers, and you will completely negate its “thermal signature” which John Schilling referred to. You can include a cooled shroud both to prevent the warhead from overheating prior to launch and to further insulate the outer balloon from the warhead’s heat. That outer balloon can be a double layer so that it is inflated with (very low pressure) gas between the layers, vacuum inside the inner one (for the insulation). Again, randomize the size, shape, and emissivity of the balloons, in fact, randomly pattern them, and there will be nothing about the IR signature of the one with the warhead in it that will stand out. Nor will radar be able to see inside.

      If the North Koreans are able to make such light warheads, they will have more extra throw weight to fill in with insulation, cold shroud and balloons. Maybe a few extra kg for insulating the warhead, but only a few gm for each added balloon. They win.

    • Nick Nolan (History)

      I agree.

      As long as objects use thrust or are in atmosphere, it’s easier to sort decoys from warheads. When objects fly trough space without thrust, 100 gram decoys can create IR and radar signature that can’t be separated from warhead.

      From signal processing perspective, sorting out decoys and other countermeasures from warheads without previous knowledge of their respective signatures is losing position if enemy shows any competence or creativity. In AI/machine learning context it would be adversarial reasoning problem applied to pattern matching.

      The biggest problem is that you can’t collect samples of the signatures beforehand. If you could analyze previous launches, you would at least have change to use human minds in the loop solving the problem.

      Personally I don’t trust that GMD can reliably target even warheads without decoys if they signatures differ even slightly from what is expected.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Johnboy wrote:

      GWH: “Iran’s relatively primitive R265 HEU design”
      That should be:
      The ALLEGED Iranian R265 HEU design
      should it not?
      After all, the only “evidence” for that design is the five-page (English language, note) document retrieved from the infamous Laptop Of Death.
      A document that nobody outside the CIA has ever seen in its original form, and which AFAIK has never been given to the Iranians despite repeated requests from them.

      Point: Alleged R265, yes. I’ve made that clear in some other posts online but haven’t for the last couple of days.

      However, that point conceded, you appear to be taking the Iranian-apologist position roughly equivalent to “There are no American tanks in Bagdhad!”.

      There are some laptop documents, some IAEA interviews with Iranians regarding EBW detonator and implosion system tests, and other sources collaborating one another. The information released in public is apparently consistent and is consistent with an actual nuclear weapon implosion system (and, as far as I can tell, nothing else including an actual nanodiamond production system). There’s a whole test site near Parchin that appears not to have any other explanation for its existence, which even the Iranians admit exists, even if they won’t talk about it more or let anyone inspect it to date.

      The properly disclaimered skeptical stance on this is that this could indeed still be a frame-up job, by some third party (either Israel or the CIA or both, though the IAEA interviews seem to point to at least parts of it being true). If so, it’s a really good job, that’s snookered in a UN organization who have independently dug up apparent collaborating evidence, which would require either overt subversion of the IAEA to have it complicit in producing false evidence (which Iran would no doubt have publicly gone batshit about already) or that there be a highly suspicious underlying Iranian program that’s NOT a nuclear weapon program, that the Israelis or CIA found out about well enough to frame up as being a nuclear implosion system program.

      It is not impossible to believe that it’s a frame-up job. It strains the credibility, however. The “One laptop/fake” retort is a grossly inadequate rebuttal given the actual totality of evidence. Frankly, if you’re going to bother to post here, you should step up and address the real situation in appropriate depth.

    • joshua (History)

      Actually, can I ask that we not go further off onto this tangent? Maybe it doesn’t matter, but I’d been hoping to keep the conversation focused on North Korean ICBMs, GMD, and maybe the Albigensian Crusade.

    • Johnboy (History)

      Sure, Joshua, if that is what you want.

      Though I have to say I object to leaving George with the last word, because I find fault with almost every assertion he has made in that post.

      Perhaps one of the wonks would like to make a retrospective article on the Laptop of Death and the meal that Amano has been making of it since assuming the top job?

      Because, in all honesty, leaving George’s last post unanswered – especially the insinuation that I have ulterior motives – is Not Something I Much Care For.

    • joshua (History)

      I tell you what. I’ll do a brief post about Iran and weaponization inside the next couple of weeks, precisely so you can hash this stuff out.

  8. Mark Lincoln (History)

    ICBM? When has the DPRK tested reentry vehicles capable of surviving 6 km/sec?

    While one does not need an ICBM to test such vehicles, witness the X-17 and Jupiter-C, one does have to test.

    Such tests would be possible to monitor, yet the panic press has not been fed stories that they have been tested.

    Perhaps the purpose of this story is to find a purpose for otherwise useless GMD?

    Witness the ever declining justifications for Nike Zeus (stop a Soviet attack), Sentinel System (save use from a small Chinese attack), and finally Safeguard (complicate a Soviet first strike); the dwindling of the more recent system from the “Peace Shield” of Star Wars to a defense against a very limited DPRK threat has the odor of a technology groping for a justification.

    • joshua (History)

      Sorry for the delay in moderation. The spam filter is hyperactive.

  9. joshua (History)

    A reader has pointed out that the status of the “threat discrimination” challenge is discussed briefly on p. 27 of a Sept. 2011 Defense Science Board report on BMD. It concerns less adversary capabilities than defensive capabilities.

  10. Nick (History)

    NYT reporting the rocket failed again a few minutes after the liftoff.

  11. Malenki Sasha (History)

    Who needs GMD when you have the Norks to crash the rocket all on their own.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      Up, up, and a-splat!

      Seriously, though, on original post topic…

      There is an assertion made that NK would only pursue ICBMs if it was decoys/ BMD penetration capable.

      Alternate explanations…

      Belief deterrence will work anyways as US BMD confidence will never be perfect.

      Other less well defended targets.


      Program more about prestige than war fighting.

      I’m sure there are others. Your theory may not be wrong, but we should consider the alternatives before running too far down the road.

      If they do have good countermeasures… Ugh.

  12. Mark Lincoln (History)

    The satellite attempt, like the last two, has failed. That is, except in how it has driven the rabid right into a frenzy of paranoid raving.

    The DPRK is not an existential threat to anyone.

    It lost the first Korean War and has no nation willing to go to war to save it now.

    When LeMay tried to convince Eisenhower that the Soviet Union was on the verge of attacking us he responded by telling Ernest that ‘they (the Communists) had worked their entire lives to have (the power and position) what they did and they did not want to lose it.

    What this last satellite attempt has reveal is the craven paranoia of many and the incompetence of the DPRK.

    Expect another attempt (the third) to produce a nuclear explosion which was more than a fissile.

  13. OT (History)

    No, it’s pretty easy to say that it doesn’t. If there ever is something they really want to succeed in, it was this.

    I find it amusing that when other side is known to be so inclined to bluff about it’s capabilities, the other side so willing to believe it all. There must be some very peculiar organizational dynamics behind it.

  14. sekant (History)

    I am afraid I find your argument (that the RPDC has an ICBM other than the Unha-3 (and fully functional at that)) very thin.

    Firstly, basing your arguments on announcements made by the US administration, when those have been all over the place over the past 15 years and have more often than not upped missile threats, is far from convincing.

    Secondly, using some cryptic comments made by the RPDC, that could be read in a number of other ways, to prop up your arguments is also not really convincing.

    Thirdly, and more importantly, it simply does not make sense. If the RPDC had such an ICBM, there is no reason they would refrain from showing it and demonstrating that they have a real deterrent vis-à-vis the US (instead of making a fool of themselves with subpar Unhas).

    Also, I don’t know where this theory that the RPDC could have trust in a new totally untested ICBM come from. Does not make any sense to me. Arguing that they would refrain from testing it because this could lead the US to beef up their mid-course GMD and thereby upset the Chinese makes even less sense. The US is beefing up its NMD anyway, and the RPDC has pissed off the Chinese countless times, once more will make no difference.

  15. John F. Opie (History)

    Ah, the joys of internet certitude.

    We don’t know if the North Koreans can launch an ICBM with a weaponized warhead. They seem to be working in that direction. Double-plus ungood.

    We don’t know if the US GMD will successfully be able to engage any given North Korean launch. Also double-plus ungood.

    Deterrence was based, to a good degree, on making it impossible to plan, in any meaningful way, to wage war using nuclear weapons. MIRVs and Triads and even mediocre ABMs make it impossible to achieve the kind of certainty that militarists need to decide that their politics can best be achieved by waging war with nuclear weapons.

    The key word is credible: as long as the North Koreans haven’t tested an ICBM warhead and haven’t had a successful test series of launched of an missile that can be used as an ICBM, they do not represent a credible threat. As long as the US GDM can be reasonably questioned as to the credibility of it being able to stop warheads, it does not represent a credible defense.

    Of course, given the calculus of these things, both sides may well be more than happy to bluff: neither side has, at the end of the day, any particularly great interest in actually conducting the necessary real-world test series that would satisfy the critics on both sides.

    However, consider this: the point of having an ICBM for the North Koreans is that it gives them political status that requires the US to take them seriously. In the eyes of the North Korean leadership, that alone is worth the price. Whether it is a rational or realistic goal is besides the point.

    And, finally for the countermeasures fans: consider that any countermeasure subtracts from the ability to carry the warhead, and while some solutions may seem brilliant, they are not so simple to do in the real world. A clever defender can check whether a decoy is simply a mylar balloon by “tapping” it with a high-powered radar: the balloon will move under the energy, a warhead will not. I don’t want to discuss counter-counter-counter-counter measures ad nausea, but there are fairly simple checks. Just consider that simply forcing massive use of countermeasures is itself a success of any ABM system, as it reduces the number of warheads heading in.

    The real point, of course, is to make both offensive and defensive weapons of these types irrelevant. :-)

    • joshua (History)

      The test of credibility in deterrence is usually (albeit implicitly) understood as having to do with the willingness of one side to use nuclear weapons first in the face of a conventional threat, not about the reliability of its nuclear capabilities. When it comes to capabilities, the other side can harbor plenty of doubt without necessarily jeopardizing deterrence. How much of a chance do you want to take?

      I think the point of having ICBMs for North Korea is not becoming the next Iraq or Libya. That’s a point they make occasionally, and it seems to be meant sincerely.

    • sekant (History)

      “I think the point of having ICBMs for North Korea is not becoming the next Iraq or Libya. That’s a point they make occasionally, and it seems to be meant sincerely.”

      That is precisely and certainly the point. That is why your argument (on 38 north) that the Norks have an ICBM but are refraining from showing/testing it does not make any sense.

      Showing willingness is important to prove one’s deterrent credential but backing it with capability is even better when you want to stress your point. For the Norks, the key point is to show not only that they have a deterrent and that they are willing to use it, but that they are able to target the US mainland (as being able to target only Japan and RoK is in their view not sufficient).

      Arguing that they have a fully functional road mobile ICBM but that they are not willing to test/show it (for no real reason whatsoever) doesn’t hold any water. Especially when in the meantime you weaken your deterrent credential by testing a repeatedly seabound SLV. In terms of capacity, you are going to create ambiguity when you cannot do better. But if you can create a certitude, there are no reason in the case of the Norks that you won’t.

    • joshua (History)

      Actually, you’ll notice that I don’t say it’s deployed yet, if that’s what you mean by fully functional. And I do think they have opportunities to show it off — they have already started a gradual program of revealing it. I wouldn’t be so surprised if we get a look at it soon, bearing in mind, of course, that it was years before we were afforded a glimpse of the Musudan, and even that was parade mock-ups.

      One possible reason not to flight-test is precisely the risk that it wouldn’t work. It might be better to let us wonder. Deterrence weapons could be treated that way. There is precedent.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      It’s hard to judge the opposition’s mental calculus here. They might be willing to bluff with an untested ICBM (or assert that a two-stage Uhna / TD-2’s first two stages are reliable enough) and untested RV. I’m sure that their contingency plan for the 7th fleet showing up 12 miles off Pyongyang and a bunch of B-2s circling off their east coast would involve something of the sort. With defensive deterrence, from a position of relative weakness, one takes what one has and throws it into the wind in a crisis and sees what flies and what fails.

      But I suspect that they would have a hard time proactively deterring the US with an undemonstrated vehicle.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)

      “Tapping” balloons with a high-powered radar….

      Let’s take the X-band radar used in the BMD system. It has a reported power-aperture product of 2e7 W-m^2. Let’s say it is at 1e6 m distance from the decoy. The wavelength is 0.03 m. Therefore the power density at the decoy will be roughly 2e7 W-m^2/(0.03 * 1e6 m^2^2) = 0.02 W/m^2. From p=E/c we get a momentum rate of roughly 1e-10 kg-m/s^2 per square meter of cross section, assuming that the energy is reflected mostly to the sides. If a 1 square meter decoy is as light as 100 g, and you illuminate it with this beam for 1000 s, the total acceleration will be 1e-6 m/s or a change in expected position of order 1 mm. I don’t think this method of discrimination is going to work very well.

  16. Airpower (History)

    Whoosh. Crunch. Splash.

    Well I’m glad we didn’t overreact to that…

  17. Anon2 (History)

    How do we know the NK rocket/missile was not intercepted and destroyed early in flight?

    I’m sorry, but “broke apart” is too convenient.

    How do we know that NK did not purposefully destroy the vehicle after meeting their missile test objectives?

    How do we know there was a bona fide satellite as the payload and not a dummy mock up?

    The rocket “broke apart” at 400K feet, about 70 miles according to a “Japanese Govt Official”. Assuming this is accurate, that would be well after the first stage had completed its burn, likely into the second stage burn. The NYTimes also quoted a “Pentagon” source as saying the remaining stages were “assessed to have failed”.

    Any other more informed commentary?

    • joshua (History)

      David Wright has done a nice job of explaining that there’s nothing currently fielded by way of BMD that can do boost-phase intercept.

      It will be interesting to see if the NKs decide to make claims of interference, though.

    • Anon2 (History)

      And it would be so hard to modify the Aegis software to intercept an accelerating booster instead of a coasting booster? Is Wright privy to all classified software modifications to Aegis, or the Japanese, SK, or Chinese equivalent?

      What’s to say, feasibly, that China didn’t do the shootdown?

      Or what’s to say that NK, after acquiring sufficient data for their missile test didn’t send the destruct command themselves? These tactic saves them the cost of modifying their test missile system to orbit a bona fide satellite, i.e. once the third stage fires, hit the destruct button because the test is essentially done and then one can use the “failure” to cover up a missile test as a satellite launch.

      I have no idea what really happened from the thus far available public information.

  18. Steve (History)

    Judging by the results of the DPRK rocket test, it seems that GMD would be unable to stop a North Korea rocket before it gets intercepted by the ocean.

  19. rwendland (History)

    David Wright has brought together the known info on the failure, including “NORAD information” on debris splashdown. Interesting the debris came down well off the intended path.

    If the debris splashdown was under the actual path, then the course would have skirted the South Korean coast and stage 1 splashdown would have been far closer to SK than intended. So it possible this was a NK destruct – but if so why are they taking so long to state this, given the story could be given some positive safety spin?

  20. Ryan Crierie (History)

    Back in December 2008, the GBI FTG-05 test failed…because the target missile failed to properly deploy its payload of decoys and countermeasures.

    I’d say we have a long ways to go before we need to start worrying about countermeasures on North Korean missiles judging from their recent failed launch.

  21. Ara Barsamian (History)

    “Much Ado About Nothing”.

    Most of the debate premise is wrong. Suicide aside, if DPRK is going to threaten anybody with nuclear weapons, it won’t be the US but South Korea and Japan…A Scud B will suffice.

    I don’t know if R265 is fiction or not, but I remember operation Merlin where the CIA passed for real to the Iranians in 2000 the blueprints of a Soviet-era fission weapon, and the “TBA 480 high-voltage block, otherwise known as a “firing set” for a spherical implosion.(US has a lawsuit against author Risen and ex-CIA agent Sterling). And DPRK certainly can put together a 200 to 300kg warhead using cylindrical implosion, which is even more trivial…

    As far as anti-ICBM defenses, I think that with current technology, it is wishful thinking….and frankly, even if it was possible (which today is not), it won’t be justifiable against a handful of DPRK ICBM’s…

    • joshua (History)

      Justifiable or no, it’s already in place. According to Newton’s first law of government, programs at rest tend to stay at rest.

  22. kme (History)

    I offer Lou Reed – Satellite Of Love:

  23. joshua (History)

    AFP reports that South Korean news channel YTN has described a series of four static engine tests earlier this year for what it calls North Korea’s KN-08 ICBM.

    Dong-a Ilbo reported on a static engine test late last year.

    Korean speakers can view the YTN video and read the transcript.

  24. George William Herbert (History)

    The scale on the video is hard to clearly make out, but the solid motor casing isn’t much more than a meter across.

    That’s about a MGM-134 Midgetman size, though it looked a bit smaller.

    That would imply light casings and high energy propellants if it indeed is a nuclear capable ICBM… Very, Very different than the TD series engineering level.

    What do we have on this thing’s range? I don’t speak or read Korean, couldn’t make much out in linked sites…

    • joshua (History)


      Beware, beware of videos on South Korean TV. It’s probably just file footage from some other context.

  25. joshua (History)

    More from YTN, including a poorly cropped shot of a missile on a TEL during a parade, apparently from TV:

    Perhaps Korean readers could interpret the story for us better than Google Translate does?

  26. Tal Inbar (History)

    Here are two pictures of the new NK ballistic missile.

    • joshua (History)

      Aha. Thanks for pointing those out.

    • George William Herbert (History)

      The warning above looks apt; that motor seems more like 1.5 m diameter at least.

      I recall someone had worked out their standard TEL tire size, but I don’t recall what that was. Would be useful.

      Wondering how this looks next to a Sajil…

    • joshua (History)

      That may have been Jochen Schischka, in the comments here:

      “Typically, commercial trucks use 21″ felloes [wheel rims].”

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