Joshua PollackGMD vs. North Korean ICBMs, Ctd.

Back in April, I asked how the Ground-based Midcourse Defense might be adapted in response to North Korea’s nascent (or embryonic) ICBM force. Thanks to Steven Aftergood of FAS, we now have the official answer. It’s included in the replies to Questions for the Record (QFRs) from a November 2011 hearing of the House Armed Services Committee. The hearing volume and the QFRs now appear at the FAS Secrecy News site.

The question from Rep. Doug Lamborn and the answer from Under Secretary of Defense for Policy James Miller appear below the jump.

Mr. LAMBORN. Do you agree with Secretary Gates who said at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore in June, ‘‘With the continued development of long-range missiles and potentially a road-mobile intercontinental ballistic missile and their continued development of nuclear weapons, North Korea is in the process of becoming a direct threat to the United States.’’ And two weeks later he said, ‘‘North Korea now constitutes a direct threat to the United States. The president told [China’s] President Hu that last year. They are developing a road-mobile ICBM. I never would have dreamed they would go to a road-mobile before testing a static ICBM. It’s a huge problem. As we’ve found out in a lot of places, finding mobile missiles is very tough.’’ Do you concur with Secretary Gates’ statements? Was the question of a North Korean road-mobile missile factored in to the decision in 2009 to abandon the Third Site and the deployment of 44 ground based interceptors at the missile fields at Fort Greely and Vandenberg Air Force Base? If North Korea begins fielding an array of road mobile ICBMs, and if they proliferate this technology to Iran and other countries as in the past, what does such activity do to current judgments about the adequacy of the current inventory of GBIs?

Dr. MILLER. I agree with Secretary Gates’ assessment that North Korea constitutes a direct threat to the United States, as it does to our South Korean and Japanese allies. North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and continued development of long-range missiles remain a primary focus of the development and deployment of the Ballistic Missile Defense System (BMDS). The capabilities developed and deployed as part of the integrated BMDS protect the United States from the potential emergence of an ICBM threat from Iran or North Korea. To maintain this advantageous position, the Administration is taking steps to improve the protection of the homeland from the potential ICBM threat posed by Iran and North Korea. These steps include the continued procurement of ground-based interceptors (GBIs), the deployment of additional sensors, and upgrades to the Command, Control, Battle Management, and Communications system. Improvements to the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, in particular, will better protect the United States against future ICBM threats, whether from Iran, North Korea, or other regional actors.

In the future, if projections regarding Iran or North Korea change significantly, then the United States should reassess its baseline program and consider implementing some elements of our hedge posture.

Comments

  1. Anon (History)

    Too bad that both the GMD and Aegis are conceptually unworkable, no matter the “…continued procurement of ground-based interceptors (GBIs), the deployment of additional sensors, and upgrades to the Command, Control, Battle Management, and Communications system…”

    — e.g. Dr. Phil Coyle, quoting DSB and NAS, in the National Interest:

    http://nationalinterest.org/commentary/the-failures-missile-defense-7248

    Perhaps a boost phase defense could be better suited to a small footprint state like NK.

    • joshua (History)

      I’m not certain that’s exactly what he would say, although it’s clear that Dr. Coyle is not a fan of the program, for the reasons he gives.

      It would be fair to ask whether current program activities are genuinely connected to the news from North Korea, or whether they are simply a response to developments within the GMD test program, etc.

    • Anon (History)

      I think it is true he is not a fan of the program. But he is also eminently qualified to speak to the lack of scientific basis of the program as quoted in the NI article above. i.e. his views are more than mere opinions.

      “It would be fair to ask whether current program activities are genuinely connected to the news from North Korea, or whether they are simply a response to developments within the GMD test program, etc.”

      It would also be fair to ask whether the whole charade GMD+Aegis+EPAA is politically/lobbying/$$$$$ driven rather than threat or physics based.

  2. Beefs (History)

    “Improvements to the Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system, in particular, will better protect the United States against future ICBM threats, whether from Iran, North Korea, or other regional actors.”

    Is the “other regional actors” phraseology new? If so, who is it supposed to include?

  3. Jon (History)

    Hopefully the GMD becomes reliable and capable before North Korea perfects the technology to develop an icbm that can hit anywhere in the US, mobile or not. One thing I don’t understand is why the engineers at Raytheon developed the EKV to ram into re-entry vehicles? So much room for error! Why not create an EKV that is like a shotgun spray?

  4. joshua (History)

    Phil Coyle’s references to “unworkable concepts and a flawed overall architecture” seem to address the “early intercept” idea as much as the midcourse approach.

  5. Mark A. Gubrud (History)

    I find all this talk about the potential effectiveness of boost-phase defenses, coming from erstwhile arms control advocates and critics of missile defense, somewhat worrisome. Sooner or later, there is the danger that real hawks will take it up.

    In order to be effective, boost-phase interceptors need to be forward-deployed, close to the launch points of the missiles being defended against, and they need to be launched very soon after those missiles are launched. This means the boost-phase systems must be left on a hair trigger, and being close to the nation being defended against, they and their radar and other installations present inviting targets for preemptive attack, in a crisis, either to facilitate an actual attack on the defended nation or to activate the deterrent value of the threat missiles.

    Thus, the problem with forward-deployed boost-phase missile defense is that it is crisis-destabilizing. In this context, we many consider that by continuing the logic of boost-phase intercept, we may arrive at the likely most effective type of BMD, pre-boost phase, or first-strike warfare.

    Also, in a perhaps more “real” political sense, the erection of BMD systems close to an adversary nation’s borders represents a severe escalation of confrontation both in symbolic terms (presence of the interceptor missiles and facilities) and in terms of investment.

    These problems are especially severe in the case of what would probably be the most effective way to deploy a boost phase defense, i.e. on manned or unmanned air platforms. These would present inviting targets for preemptive attack, and would be especially threatening since they would be able and would be expected to be moved in as part of the first wave of an offensive strike, for greater assurance of catching any missiles not preemptively destroyed on the ground. Drones are especially likely to stray and be shot down creating dangerous incidents or even provoking the launch of the missiles supposedly defended against.

  6. joshua (History)

    Early intercept isn’t the same idea as boost-phase intercept. It’s a different sort of answer to the discrimination problem, meant to work by hitting the target after boost but before countermeasures are deployed. That would be quite a feat of timing, and the DSB panel seems to have taken a dim view of it.

    • Mark Gubrud (History)

      Right you are, Joshua. My comment was in reference to the discussion here on boost-phase intercept.

    • Mark A. Gubrud (History)

      But as to that, the general point applies (to a lesser extent) to “early intercept” as well, relative to “midcourse” or “terminal”, since the “early intercept” interceptors must also be relatively forward-deployed. So, in general, the evolution from “terminal phase” deployments is movement along a continuum that leads to first-strike, i.e. a continuous movement toward more provocative and (at least theoretically, and probably really) destabilizing configurations.

  7. George Lewis (History)

    Although the GMD will eventually have 44 silos, the MDA currently does not plan to deploy any more GBIS beyond the 30 they have now. Instead MDA and the Pentagon have stated that they plan to double the capacity (the number of missiles the system can handle) by increasing the reliability of the deployed GBIs. This is a pretty remarkable claim given that General O’Reilly said as far back as 2010 that the effectiveness of the system against a NK missile was already “well into the high nineties.” (The way this works is that with the current firing doctrine of firing four interceptors at each missile, and no common mode failures, you can get a 97.5% effectiveness if the reliability of each missile is about 60%. If you increase the reliability of each missile to about 85%, you can get 97.5% effectiveness with only two GBIs). Of course this is all nearly meaningless. As General Kadish said in 2003: “There are a lot of things that go into [determining] effectiveness. Everybody can be right.”

    In fact the effectiveness of the GMD has against a NK missile actually seems to be decreasing. Ten of thirty GBIs were removed from operational status following the failure of FTG-06A in December 2010. Much more importantly, starting in FY 2013 the only sensor in the GMD that can even attempt to perform discrimination at a range of over about 1,000 km, the Sea-Based X-band (SBX) radar, is having is budget cut by over 90% and placed in a “limited test and operations status” (whatever that means – its budget for FY 2013 is less than just the cost of providing for its physical security was this year)..

    • joshua (History)

      Thanks, George.

      I am continually amazed by the lack of widespread discussion of these issues.

  8. Moe DeLaun (History)

    So, then, is Air-Sea Battle simply the latest act in this Theater of the Absurd?

    What about the depressed-trajectory shots necessary to use an ASBM or LRGS (Long Range Global Strike) weapon? Do existing cruise-missle defenses have any bearing, or do they reveal the essentially unopposable nature of hypersonic horizontal flight?

  9. phrank (History)

    I think that we have to consider who we are trying to deter. North Korea is a bucket case and like many countries that are run by dictatorships they sometimes do stupid things. And even after whatever stupid thing they do we sometimes don’t know why they did them. Are we so sure that they have 100% control over all there weapons and that will always be the case? I do agree that going with a impact weapon makes no sense to me.

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