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Missile Defense Prepped; Kim Yawns

So the U.S. has decided to turn on its Alaska-based missile defense system, in response to North Korea’s impending launch. Kim Jong-il ain’t exactly quaking in his boots, I imagine.
The Ground-based Midcourse Defense system hasn’t successfully intercepted a missile since October of 2002. Five of its last ten flight tests, it flunked. And the last two times it tried to hit an oncoming missile, the interceptor didn’t even leave the ground. Things have gotten so bad that the Missile Defense Agency’s independent review team concluded last year that more tests may only undermine the GMD’s value as a deterrent. (Here’s a comprehensive list of all of the GMD tests — past, current, and future — from the Center for Defense Information.)
Missile defense backers might point to a positive-sounding test run in April. But that was just a “data collection” flight. “No interceptor missiles were used,” CDI notes.
UPDATE 01:42 PM: “This ‘missile defense system initiated’ shit is the biggest yawner of a story all day,” says one knowledgeable source. “I’m exaggerating… but it takes approximately two seconds to flip those sorties to operational.“
The source also wonders whether the North Koreans are really planning to launch a “missile,” at all. What if it’s a small satellite they’re trying to get into orbit, instead? [The South Koreans seem to be asking the same question.]
Lastly, the source wonders whether the U.S. would even be willing to launch a missile interceptor, given the system’s uneven track record. “What message do we send if we miss?” he asks.
UPDATE 5:38 PM: Joe Cirincione reminds us that the North Koreans ain’t exactly master missileers. “The last time they fired a long-range missile was in 1998, it went about 1300 killometers and failed to put its tiny payload into orbit,” he says.
UPDATE 5:58 PM: The Nelson Report thinks it’s all a PR stunt. “if theres one thing all analysts of N. Korea agree on, its that Dear Leader Kim Jong-il just loves being the center of attention. By that criteria, the so far big non-event of the week…an alleged Taepodong-2 ICBM test…is already a HUGE success.“
UPDATE 6:13 PM: Some have suggested that if the GMD interceptors in Alaska aren’t working, then U.S. forces will used the sea-based, Aegis system to knock down a Korean launch.
Not likely.
The Aegis is designed to “detect, track, intercept, and destroy Short Range Ballistic Missiles (SRBMs) to Intermediate Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBMs),” according to the military. Long-range, intercontinental ballistic missiles — which fly higher than SRBMs and IRBMs — won’t be touched by the Aegis, unfortunately. Besides, the Aegis’ SM-3 interceptors don’t have the oomph to take down an ICBM.
What the Aegis cruisers can do is track the bigger missiles, to help the interceptors in Alaska. But that’s about it.
UPDATE 8:38 PM: If you’re looking for an article that’s either flat wrong or misleading on just about every aspect of missile defense — from Airborne Lasers to so-called Taepodong-2s to Aegis interceptors, this right here would be your story.

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{ 16 comments… read them below or add one }

Harry Toor June 20, 2006 at 2:49 pm


“What message do we send if we miss?” he asks.

Why not send two, hehe.

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Edward Liu June 20, 2006 at 3:07 pm

What message do we send if we miss? If you work in the defense industry, then the message is clearly that we’re not spending anywhere near enough on missile defense, but a few hundred trillion dollars more in the next defense budget will get us MUCH closer than we EVER were before. =8^)

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C-Low June 20, 2006 at 3:12 pm

What are you guys going to do if WE HIT?
In one fail swoop the missile threat short mass assaults from either Russia or China is gone. In one fail swoop all those Tin Horn Dictators that spent their starving peoples rice quotas on that new slick long range missile to threaten the US and west is gone poof in a cloud of smoke. In an ever-increasing rate thereafter the threat from Russia and China becomes less and less. In one fail swoop everything changes and the crazed dictator holding the US pop hostage with ballistic missiles is gone good riddens.
Of course the more batty section the audience will scream ohhh the US will abuse this world dominating power ohhhh the real evil is US. Of course that negates the fact we are the only nation in the world that had the opportunity to conquer the entire world (WW2 45-55 we were the only Nuclear power with no rival short Russia who a handful of nukes would have salved in short order) but we not only passed we helped free most of the 3rd world from their colonial powers and even rebuild those same powers homelands.
BMD changes everything shifts the whole table. A true world turning event it would be.

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sglover June 20, 2006 at 3:12 pm

“What message do we send if we miss? If you work in the defense industry, then the message is clearly that we’re not spending anywhere near enough on missile defense, but a few hundred trillion dollars more in the next defense budget will get us MUCH closer than we EVER were before. =8^)”
And don’t forget, if the interceptor even clears its launcher, the missile defense crowd will call it a “near miss”.

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Sarge June 20, 2006 at 3:20 pm

I can’t believe they are STILL flogging this flying Maginot line crap.
Another waste of money.

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Noah Shachtman June 20, 2006 at 3:29 pm

C: I think we’d all be beyond psyched if the GMD hit. But considering the track record, that doesn’t seem particularly likely.
E: LOL!
nms

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sglover June 20, 2006 at 3:30 pm

“In one fail swoop the missile threat short mass assaults from either Russia or China is gone. In one fail swoop all those Tin Horn Dictators that spent their starving peoples rice quotas on that new slick long range missile to threaten the US and west is gone poof in a cloud of smoke. In an ever-increasing rate thereafter the threat from Russia and China becomes less and less. In one fail swoop everything changes and the crazed dictator holding the US pop hostage with ballistic missiles is gone good riddens.”
First of all, the phrase is “one fell swoop”: http://www.worldwidewords.org/qa/qa-fel1.htm
Otherwise, even if your premise is correct (that the missile defense gadgetry will work as advertised), you seem to be gloating about hypothetical triumphs that went by the boards round about 1989. I’m not sure where you’re getting these strange notions about the Russians and the Chinese brandishing their nuclear arsenals to get what they want. Perhaps you’ve been trapped in a time capsule, stocked with too many Tom Clancy books…..
Anyway, there’s a lot of (fully justified) criticism of the vast expense of the boondoggle, but that’s only one facet. The deeper reason for skepticism is that “missile defense” is a response to a problem that was solved decades ago, through MAD. Kim Jong-Il can rattle his (underwhelming) missiles all he wants; he knows that actually using them would be the last decision he’ll ever make. Meanwhile, al Qaeda types can look at those useless interceptors buried in the permafrost, and laugh.

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Nah June 20, 2006 at 3:51 pm

C-Low, if someone attacks us with a ballistic missile, then we pummel the crap out of them, and they cease to be a threat. This inevitable reaction is what keeps tin-horn dictators from attacking us, not a hyper-expensive BMD system of dubious effectiveness.

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Haninah June 20, 2006 at 4:32 pm

I’ll second the general spirit of what Nah and sglover said, but I wanted to throw out one thing: if this missile does fly, and if we do try to intercept it, my money is on us going with Aegis, rather than GMD. This is because a) Aegis has shown itself less likely to embarrass us b) an Aegis SM-3 costs orders of magnitude less than a GMD interceptor and c) we’d want to show off our notional ability to protect Japan using Aegis ships in the Sea of Japan.

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Dblhdr June 20, 2006 at 6:25 pm

Now would be a good time to send up our new AirBourne Laser weapons system and fry that North Korean Bird in mid flight. It would be a good demonstration to the world that we had the technology to protect ourselves, and if for some reason it didn’t work we could deny that we were ever there and try to figure out what went wrong.

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Edward Liu June 20, 2006 at 10:30 pm

C-Low: valid questions, all.
None of which have much better answers with a missile defense shield, even if it did work.

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Raymond P June 21, 2006 at 9:36 am

I am not going to be surprised if the US Navy goes after this launch, it is very, very rare the right collection of events occur where the Navy has this opportunity to grab some good PR, something the Navy needs right now under the budget crunches.
Think about it, the AEGIS system is very limited due to relatively short range of the SM-3. You have to have the right equipment in the right place at the right time to even use the AEGIS option, but thanks to good intel and bad weather, the US Navy has that exact scenario available.
While the SM-3 system is effective at terminal phases, it can also be effective during the launch phase if it can get close enough to the launch site. In this situation, the launch site is on the coast, in a known position, so the Navy can actually get in range of the launch site without violating treaties. The Navy also has had plenty of time to position their ships thanks to bad weather. The question is, do the 2 destroyers in the Sea of Japan have SM-3s onboard?
The only downside is the Navy option only exists if the US intends to shoot it down no matter what, because it would be hit during the launch phase before it reached higher altitude, which is before anyone could determine what the launch is all about. If the US intends to shoot the missile down no matter what, then the Navy option is best (and probably the only option unless North Korea really has gone insane), because it can hit the missile before it gets to Japan, Alaska, the West Coast, Guam, or the middle of the Pacific where interceptors are unlikely to be in range of the ICBM.
It isn’t a perfect scenario for sure, but it is certainly an option if the US Navy is planning for it. At ~200 nautical miles from the North Korean coastline, due to the location of the launch site, 2 AEGIS ships should be able to guard the entire Japanese coastline and be in position to intercept during the launch phase of a high orbit ICBM tracking over Japan, assuming they get a good track during launch.

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Tim June 21, 2006 at 11:48 pm

If they launch, it would actually be good for us.
Right now, we have very little information about
their launchers; being able to actually track a
launch would be a great practice and data
gathering opportunity. In fact, I’d be tempted
to burn off an interceptor just to get some nice,
close up, realistic tracking data.
As far as what to do if it is a satellite launch,
well, you don’t HAVE to kill it. Just fly by nice
and close and show you could have. Or at least
that’s our story if we miss :)

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David June 24, 2006 at 12:50 am

Kim Jong II needs income. The U.S. has effectively taken steps to blocks large amounts of revenue flowing to North Korea. If North Korea launches the missile, they can take orders worth tens of millions from the world’s malcontents. If U.S. shoots it down- at any stage, the U.S. validates the potency of the North Korean missile as a threat. That makes it worth even more.
You don’t want it to launch at all. So, naval maneuvers are held off North Korea and there is much media speculation about Ageis attacks. Bush activates his defense industry BMD boondoogle. During the distraction, three Stealth bombers fly over and pre-emptively nix the missile site.
Japan says, “Geez, glad the Ageis were there.” Ignorant American public says, “Geez, glad Bush built the missile defense.” Kim Jong II says, “Geez, I forgot about that option,” and is reduced to taking orders for his nuclear weapons. The region is forced to concede that the U.S., not China is the ultimate power in the region. The rest of the world breaths a sigh of relief. What’s not to like?
David

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Nigel Nuedecker July 6, 2006 at 12:26 am

Here’s an aspect to this whole North Korean tale which no one will talk about and you have to wonder why. The man who spent BILLIONS successfully manipulating our political system to bring the hard right and theocratic to power IS involved in all aspects of this story.
Dear Leader’s Paper Moon
http://www.prospect.org/web/page.ww?section=root&name=ViewPrint&articleId=9868
Read section 17 here
http://cellwhitman.blogspot.com/2004/10/independent-washington-times.html
and read all of this, this is the hot potato none of them will touch.
http://www.mediachannel.org/views/dissector/affalert356.shtml

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Bob Morgan July 6, 2006 at 1:45 pm

CONSPIRACY THEORY????
US microwave LASER scrambled guidance computer on NK missile? This may have been reason for multiple missiles beign launched, LASER takes time to recharge and several of the missiles had guidance/stability malfunctions?
Balistic missil is at it’s most venerable at slowes poing of path, just after lift off. Knowing flight path and with lots of time to get LASER ships in position. No wonder multiple guideance failures?
LASER would not even need ot penerate skin only short out a few chips on circuit boards. US would not want this known as Missiles could have hit Japan due to US intervention? NK scientists are now working on “shielding” for guidance system. So; next stage is to target LASER Destroyers with short range missiles or perhaps in an all out war, a Nuk of US ships in the Sea of Japan just before launch?
Sleep tight tonight our law enforcement is rounding up the Miami 7 for targeting the Sears tower, soon they will have need boots, prison issued and we all will sleep safe and sound. Sig Heil to Herr Gonzalez. Bob Morgan

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