• Text smaller
  • Text bigger

NEAR PYONGYANG, NORTH KOREA, April 17, 2011 – It is one hour before dawn and North Korean forces have begun readying a number of nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles aimed at America. Fueling of the missiles by their crews, which have been in place for years, goes unnoticed by U.S. and Allied satellite surveillance, despite increased tensions between both countries, and are readied for launch within 50 minutes. Shortly before sunrise, tens of thousands of North Korean shock troops, armored units and battalions of rocket forces with short- and medium-range missiles stand poised to invade South Korea.

U.S. troop presence, long reduced under previous Pentagon reorganization, is negligible, but America still retains its diplomatic and military alliance with Seoul, an increasing source of friction between Washington and Pyongyang. As day breaks, a dozen three-stage ICBMs with ranges in excess of 13,000 kilometers are launched at a half-dozen west coast American cities, including Los Angeles and Seattle. At the same time, 50 North Korean divisions numbering close to 600,000 men rumble southward following a massive missile and artillery bombardment that nearly levels Seoul, as well as much of South Korea’s air and ground force.

Within minutes of launch, U.S. satellites pick up and begin tracking the North Korean ICBMs. Their path, missile trajectory computers quickly calculate, will take them over the extreme eastern expanses of China, past Russia’s Siberian Sea, across the southern portion of the Arctic Ocean, down through Alaska on their way to key western U.S. cities. Though dawn in Korea, it is late evening the day before in the United States. Most of the 300 million-plus Americans are at home asleep or otherwise unsuspecting of the coming attack.

But the ICBMs never reach their intended targets. A combination of ground interceptors, along with airborne and space-based laser weapons, target and intercept each of the speeding missiles, destroying them in flight and rendering their nuclear payloads ineffective. Though war is raging on the Korean peninsula, the American heartland was protected because successive administrations made the investment years ago in technology and funding to develop state-of-the-art missile defenses – weapons that negated the need for the U.S. to respond with nuclear missiles of its own.

 


At least, that’s one possible scenario. The other is much too terrible to contemplate, say supporters of missile-defense programs currently being built and tested by the Pentagon, for that one involves destruction of American cities and perhaps tens of thousands of American lives lost. To prevent such devastation, the Bush administration has embarked on an ambitious plan to deploy a multifaceted, multi-layered missile-defense system that is intended to shield the continental United States, its armed forces and its overseas possessions from ballistic-missile attacks.

“The objective of the National Missile Defense (NMD) program is to develop and maintain the option to deploy a cost-effective, operationally effective and Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty-compliant system that will protect the United States against limited ballistic-missile threats, including accidental or unauthorized launches or Third World threats,” says a Federation of American Scientists analysis. “The primary mission of National Missile Defense is defense of the United States (all 50 states) against a threat of a limited strategic ballistic-missile attack from a rogue nation.”

Cheap in comparison to a state-of-the-art air ground and naval force, more nations worldwide are opting to buy or develop intercontinental ballistic missiles and tip them with nuclear weapons, say intelligence experts, which has fueled calls in the U.S. for developing and deploying a shield against ICBM threats.

Included in that list are “axis of evil” members Iran and North Korea, the latter already reportedly possessing a limited number of nuclear warheads, U.S. intelligence officials warned Japan in March. Pyongyang is also developing intercontinental ballistic-missile technology – most likely with Chinese help – to deliver them. Iran, meanwhile, is also working hard to develop nuclear and ICBM capability, say U.S. intelligence officials.

Because of these and other emerging threats, the Bush administration wants to deploy a workable, if limited, ICBM defense by 2004. The earliest system envisioned by the Pentagon, currently under development, involves placing up to 20 interceptor rockets in Alaska and California – known as Ground-Based Midcourse Defense. Advanced Patriot missiles would also be part of that system. But other, more technologically advanced missile-defense systems are also well under development, if not still years away from deployment.

The speed at which the Pentagon is set to deploy the first system was the subject of a government investigative agency report earlier this month, which said President Bush’s directive to deploy a missile defense quickly may actually harm the overall effectiveness of the technology.

“The president’s directive to begin fielding an initial defensive capability in 2004 places [the Pentagon] in danger of getting off track early and introducing more risk into the missile-defense effort over the long term,” said the General Accounting Office, Congress’ watchdog, in a report released June 4.

The Pentagon was employing “immature technology and limited testing” of missile-defense capabilities in its rush to meet Bush’s deadline, the GAO said. “While doing so may help MDA meet the president’s deadline, it also increases the potential that some elements may not work as intended.”

So far, the GAO says tests have been conducted under non-stress conditions. “As a result, testing to date has provided only limited data for determining whether the system will work as intended in 2004,” the GAO said.

But the gravity of potential threats is what is driving the administration’s timetable. Most importantly, the Pentagon says, the ballistic missile threat is maturing – and quickly.

Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, prior to his appointment in the Bush administration, helped author a report in 1998 on missile defense which stated, “Concerted efforts by a number of overtly or potentially hostile nations to acquire ballistic missiles with biological or nuclear payloads pose a growing threat to the United States, its deployed forces and its friends and allies.”

His report predicted that nations developing ballistic missiles could not match U.S. technological superiority, but could, within five years, “be able to inflict major destruction” on American cities, and that the emerging threat is “broader, more mature and evolving more rapidly than has been reported” by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Also important in Rumsfeld’s report was the notation that warning times for incoming missile deployments was being reduced. “The U.S. might well have little or no warning before operational deployment,” the report said.

And Bob Smith, a space and communications division spokesman for Boeing, told WorldNetDaily in 1999 that “at least 30 nations are known to have more than 10,000 theater ballistic missiles in their arsenals, and the threat is growing daily.” Several of these countries are also known to be pursuing development or to have developed nuclear, chemical and biological capabilities for their missiles, he said.

To counter them, the United States is developing what Pentagon planners have called a “layered” missile defense that will likely involve land, sea, air and – eventually – space-based defenses.

Emerging threats

While most of the world’s great powers – Europe, Russia, India and China, along with Pakistan and Israel, both of which are also nuclear-armed – are allies of the U.S. and not hostile, these nations also produce their own modern short-, medium-, and long-range ballistic missiles. Ominously, many sell these weapons to other potentially threatening nations like Iran and North Korea.


Chinese DF-15 medium-range ballistic missiles. Technology for these missiles has been proliferated by Beijing to countries like Pakistan and Iran.

Some of the most modern lethal weapons challenging U.S. missile defense developers belong to Russia and China. Moscow not only possesses modern ICBMs, but it also fields SLBMs – submarine-launched ballistic missiles – which, if exported, could be used by hostile navies to rain death on U.S. cities with little or no warning. The most modern Russian missile is the Topol M, or SS-27, a single-warhead missile that can travel 11,000 kilometers (6,900 miles). It comes in silo-based and mobile versions, the latter of which are much harder to find.

China also possesses modern ICBM and SLBM missiles. Beijing has successfully tested the 7,500-mile range DF-31 missile, and has deployed its 7,500-mile J-2 SLBM aboard People’s Liberation Army Navy submarines.

Both China and Russia have sold missiles and missile technology to client states Pakistan, Iran and other nations in the Middle East, U.S. intelligence reports. And these client states are using the technology to advance their own domestic offensive ballistic missile capability.

Iran and North Korea, for example, are exchanging similar technologies to develop ICBMs capable of striking all of their neighbors as well as the west coast of the U.S. The weapon’s designation in North Korea is the Taepo Dong 2; in Iran, the Shahab 5 and 6. On the drawing board for North Korea is the Taepo Dong 4 and for Iran, the Shahab 7, each with a maximum range of more than 9,300 miles with a 220-pound payload.

Iran has already exported domestically produced versions of short-range SCUD B and SCUD C missiles to Congo, the Washington Times reported in November 1999.

India’s arsenal includes the short-range ballistic missile Prithvi, the medium-range Agni missile, and the short-range supersonic Brahmos. Less clear, says the Federation of American Scientists, is India’s development of a 12,000-kilometer (7,456 miles) ICBM designated “Surya.”

Brazil, meanwhile, is rapidly becoming one of the world’s largest exporters of weapons. It has a mature space-launch vehicle program begun in the 1960s, and there were reports that Libya and Iraq were interested in Brazil’s domestically produced ballistic missiles, though there were no reports of sales of such missiles to Baghdad or Tripoli.

All combined, great and emerging powers present an ever-increasing need for a state-of-the-art, layered missile-defense system, Pentagon and Bush administration officials insist.

“The president’s decision to deploy a missile defense means that our total vulnerability to missile attack – yes, total; we could do nothing in the event of an accidental or deliberate launch – will soon go the way of the Berlin Wall,” writes Baker Spring, the Kirby research fellow in national-security policy at The Heritage Foundation. “… As technology progresses further, this initial set-up can serve as the foundation of a more complex system designed to stop other types of missiles.”

Land-based defenses

Anti-missile defense systems that use missiles to intercept other missiles have been in the U.S. arsenal for more than a decade. The Army’s Patriot air-defense missiles made their debut in the first Gulf War, intercepting a number of SCUD-type ballistic missiles fired into Israel, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait by Iraq.


U.S. Patriot PAC-3 missile.

The initial Patriot system has been upgraded to the PAC-3 system currently in use. It is “an entirely new missile … which is intended to counter theater-class ballistic missile threats using hit-to-kill intercept,” says a description by the Federation of American Scientists, or FAS.

“The PAC-3 missile is fired from the same launcher as earlier versions of Patriot, although eight of the smaller PAC-3 missiles are carried in each firing unit, versus four each of the earlier versions,” said FAS.

And the Patriot technology proved itself again in the recent war with Iraq. Of more than a dozen surface-to-surface missiles fired by Baghdad, eight were intercepted by differing versions of Patriot missile batteries. Only one Iraqi missile hit any target of significance; a shopping mall in Kuwait City, causing only minor injuries.


Israel test-fires Arrow anti-missile battery.

Israel and the U.S. have also developed the Arrow missile-defense system, which works similar to the Patriot.

Besides PAC-3 and the Pentagon’s land-based interceptors set to be deployed next year, the Army is also developing a concept known as THAAD, or Theater High Altitude Area Defense. The THAAD is designed “to provide extended coverage, engaging incoming missile at ranges of up to several hundred kilometers, versus the tens of kilometers provided by” earlier Patriot systems, said FAS.

“THAAD missiles are intended to actually collide with the target ballistic missile, rather than destroying it by exploding nearby, as fragmentation warheads do,” FAS said. Final guidance to the incoming missile is accomplished by an infrared seeker on the “kill vehicle,” or interceptor missile.

Sea-based defenses

A sea-based component involves deployment of the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense, which was outlawed under the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The U.S. gained the ability to test and deploy a sea-based defense after Washington withdrew from the treaty, signed with the former Soviet Union, in 2002.


A developmental Standard Missile-3 is launched from the Pearl Harbor-based Aegis cruiser USS Lake Erie. U.S. Navy photo.

For one, the U.S. Navy is developing a missile-defense system for theater-wide forces. Incorporating THAAD technology, the sea-based version will be deployed on AEGIS-equipped warships and be capable of providing “wide area coverage against a wide range of threats, including ascent phase intercepts where the ship’s mobility permits such engagements,” says an assessment by FAS.

The Missile Defense Agency reported June 18 that a test of its AEGIS defense system involving the use of an SM-3 kinetic warhead missile failed to hit its intended target.

“Preliminary indications are that the SM-3 interceptor missile deployed its Kinetic Warhead, but an intercept was not achieved,” said the MDA, in a statement. “The primary objective of this test was to evaluate the SM-3 Kinetic Warhead’s guidance, navigation and control operation in space using an upgraded solid divert and attitude control system.”

It was the fourth test of the AEGIS SM-3 missile, said the MDA, which was conducted on the cruiser USS Lake Erie. The first three resulted in successful intercepts.

Adding a sea-based aspect to missile defense is an appropriate step, argues the Center for Security Policy, and one that is bipartisan in nature.

“… The wisdom of adapting Navy AEGIS fleet air-defense ships for [missile defense] has been increasingly recognized by influential Democrats,” the center said, in a policy brief. “Former secretaries of defense Harold Brown and Bill Perry, former CIA Director John Deutch and even Sen. Joseph Biden of Delaware have recently espoused this idea. In so doing, they appear to have embraced an approach for acquiring effective missile defenses long advanced by a blue-ribbon Commission on Missile Defense sponsored by the Heritage Foundation and by most leading Republicans. …”

Laser defenses

One of the most ambitious and technologically challenging concepts currently under development in the U.S. is the Airborne Laser, or ABL, project, led by Boeing Corporation.


Artist’s conception of the ABL in action.

Also, as WorldNetDaily has reported, over the past two decades the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Air Force and the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, or BMDO, formerly the Strategic Defense Initiative Organization, have developed the technologies essential for a Space-Based Laser system, or SBL.

Nicknamed the “Death Star,” the space-based laser program is well under way, led by $4.1 billion in development funds supplied by the BMDO. The goal is to place SBL into orbit in 2012. Testing is already under way.

“Whoever controls space has control of Earth,” says physicist John Pike, an international weapons expert.

“The United States is unable to resist it. If the U.S. is in a position to control Earth from outer space, there’s nothing to stop us. Of course we’re going to do it,” Pike told the Toronto Star in March 2001.

But the ABL, a 747-mounted system under development since 1996, could be deployed much sooner – perhaps by 2007, say experts. Besides Boeing, defense contractors Lockheed Martin and TRW are also involved in its development.

The ABL system is designed to locate, track and destroy missiles shortly after they have left their launch platforms and before they enter high altitudes. “Capable of autonomous operation at altitudes above the clouds, the Airborne Laser will locate and track missiles in the boost phase of their flight, then accurately point and fire the laser with such energy that the missiles will be destroyed near their launch areas,” says a Boeing statement.

Developers have armed the ABL platforms with YAL-1A Attack Laser, which is a COIL – Chemical Oxygen Iodine Laser.

According to the Air Force, all of the ABL’s systems – infrared heat detectors, turbopump to circulate laser fuel through the megawatt class laser (a pump with enough power to fill an ordinary home swimming pool in 10 minutes), two solid-state kilowatt-class lasers, a COIL and a beam-steering configuration that incorporates the use of the relatively new science of adaptive optics – “will be tested individually and then as part of the ABL system, both on the ground at the ABL Integrated Test Force facility at Edwards Air Force Base, Calif., and in the air,” as they are installed.

“The integration and test phases will culminate in late 2004 when ABL shoots down its first boosting ballistic missile,” said the Air Force in a published statement.

An official at the Airborne Laser System Program Office at Kirtland Air Force Base in New Mexico told WorldNetDaily he wasn’t aware of any other nation developing an ABL platform. He also said the program was on schedule.

Boeing’s Smith says a fleet of seven ABL aircraft are initially planned, but the military could buy more if the Pentagon saw the need.

The United States, in conjunction with allies, also is developing ground-based laser weapons. One such concept being developing primarily by TRW for the Army is called the Tactical High Energy Laser, or THEL.


TRW is the prime contractor for the THEL.

The system, which incorporates a tracker/pointer and high-energy beam, was co-developed with U.S. and Israeli contractors for the U.S. Army Space & Missile Defense Command in Huntsville, Ala., and the Israel Ministry of Defense.

“It’s the only working high-energy laser system that has been fielded,” one developmental engineer familiar with the project told WorldNetDaily, on condition of anonymity.

But “its important role in missile defense and boost-phase intercept has been ridiculed and even denied because political appointees and career civil-service types have pursued missile defense on a political footing along with their geo-politics concepts,” said the source. “Immaculate warfare at a distance.”

THEL’s success was “predicted and studied carefully in the ’90s,” the engineer said, and development was pursued only after scientists examined the physics limitations of such a weapon.

Developing new military technology is especially tedious and lengthy, but it must be, say experts, because lives – as well as billions of taxpayer dollars – are at stake. Developing effective missile-defense technology has been no different.

“You test a little, you learn a lot and you continue to go forward. This is rocket science,” Department of Defense spokesman Chris Taylor told CBS News June 19, following the failure of a sea-based missile test, in which a Standard Missile-3 interceptor fired from the cruiser USS Lake Erie missed an Aries target missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility on Kauai.

Last week’s failure marked the first in two and a half years of sea-based missile defense testing, Pentagon officials said.

Is there a need?

Not all experts believe the U.S. is in dire need of an expensive, technologically challenging and elaborate missile-defense system.

“The Clinton administration underestimated the technological ability of several of the ‘rogue’ states to develop long-range missiles and politicized its intelligence estimate. However, missile threats to the United States from any one of those states also depend on the intentions of that state and political developments that might affect those intentions,” writes Ivan Eland, director of defense policy studies at the CATO Institute, a libertarian Washington-based think tank.

He argues that many of the nations most likely to threaten the U.S. with ballistic missiles have gone, or are undergoing, political changes that likely will mean a thaw in relations with Washington.

“Since early 1999, significant positive political developments have occurred in the ‘rogue’ states most likely to develop long-range missiles,” he says. “The United States has agreed to lift some of the economic sanctions against North Korea – the nation that would first have the technological capability to threaten the United States with missiles – in exchange for a suspension of its testing of missiles.

“Iran – the next most capable ‘rogue’ nation in missile technology – is haltingly liberalizing at home and improving relations with its neighbors and the West. That thaw could eventually lead to improving relations with the United States,” Eland says.

Also, some critics have cited a 2000 Congressional Budget Office report that projected the 15-year research-and-development cost for missile defense would be around $60 billion. But, as the Center for Security Policy argues, that’s “cheap at twice the price.”

The center estimates that U.S. defense budgets over the next decade and a half could total as much as $4.5 trillion.

“Consequently, even if the current CBO estimates are correct, the annual outlay for this expanded (but still ‘limited’) national missile defense system would be less than 1 percent of then-year budgets,” the center said in an analysis. “At that rate, a missile defense capable of sparing even a single American city from attack by missile-delivered weapons of mass destruction, to say nothing of perhaps all of them, would be cheap at twice the CBO’s price.”

Other think tanks and experts also see the threat of weapons of mass destruction, or WMD, used against the homeland as reason enough to develop a workable system.

“U.S. ballistic missile-defense efforts need to be pursued as part of a comprehensive strategy for dealing with WMD and the means to deliver them,” says Daniel Gour?, director of the Security Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “Of necessity, that strategy must be global, one in which the United States can enlist its closest allies.”

Related stories:

Missile defense to include laser weapons

China advancing laser weapons program

U.S. developing airborne laser project

Critics say ABL won’t work

Rumsfeld: America needs missile defense

Related column:

Past time for missile defense

  • Text smaller
  • Text bigger
Note: Read our discussion guidelines before commenting.