Amb. Henry F. Cooper, Chairman . . . Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham, Founder
High Frontier . . Building Truly Effective Defenses . . Reagan’s Vision Lives
E-Mail Message 140411
Defeat North Korea’s FOBS!
By Ambassador Henry F. Cooper
April 11, 2014
A combined diplomatic and technical response is proposed to counter effectively North Korea’s demonstrated FOBS capability, which poses an existential EMP threat to the American people. We should insist on inspecting their satellite payloads for launches over the South Polar regions, and if they refuse be prepared to shoot down their satellites before they overfly U.S. territory. We should deploy a layered set of sea- and land-based defenses to do so, beginning almost immediately—and for relatively little expense since existing mostly already funded defense capabilities would be involved.
Throughout the Cold War, our homeland ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems were focused on defeating attacks by intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that threatened the U.S. from the north—and the current homeland BMD systems got their impetus from North Korean ballistic missiles tests, particularly their tests in the late 1990s on trajectories that also would approach the U.S. from the north, as discussed last week. Our current ground-based BMD systems in Alaska and California provide a limited defense against such North Korea’s Taepodong-2 ICBM attacks.
North Korea’s late 1990s ballistic missile tests directed were directed northward over Japan, creating sufficient concern for Japan to join forces with the U.S. Navy in developing the Aegis BMD system—and Japan currently operates four Aegis BMD ships as an integral part of its Self Defense Force (SDF). Last week, Japan was sufficiently concerned about the recent North Korean activities that appear to be preparing for another ballistic missile launch over its territory that Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera ordered Japan’s Aegis BMD ships in the Sea of Japan to prepare to intercept North Korea’s ballistic missiles if they are deemed to be on a course for Japan’s territory.
In response to Japan’s valid concern about this threat, Defense Secretary Hagel this week announced his decision “to forward-deploy two additional [U.S.] Aegis BMD ships to Japan by 2017,” bringing the total of U.S. Aegis BMD ships in the region to seven, to supplement the four Japanese Aegis BMD ships.
These prudent moves also can help counter another important threat from North Korea, not yet fully recognized and not yet defended against—a North Korean FOBS attack strategy. FOBS is fancy shorthand for a fractional orbit bombardment system, pioneered by the Soviet Union during the 1960s. It amounts to a using a satellite to carry a nuclear weapon over the South Polar region and attack Americans through our unprotected back door—a capability North Korea has already tested.
Specifics on the FOBS Threat.
From a U.S. perspective, while there are uncertainties about the status of the Taepodong-2 ICBM and its capabilities, it is practically indistinguishable to its counterpart space launch vehicle (SLV), the Unha-3—which has been successfully tested. These Unha-3 tests involved launches to the South, placing satellites in orbits that pass over the South Polar region—most recently on December 12, 2012. These launches could easily be directed so that the Unha-3 payload overflies the U.S. on its initial orbit. If the satellite carries a nuclear weapon, it would constitute a FOBS.
Below, the Unha-3 on its launch pad is depicted on the left and the Taepodong-2 on the right. (More information can be obtained by regularly following the Missile Threat webpage.) As illustrated in the right hand schematic below, the difference is in the third stage which either inserts the Unha-3 satellite payload into orbit (yellow) or into an ICBM ballistic trajectory (green) which eventually re-enters the earth’s atmosphere, and the nuclear weapon payload then approaches its intended target area.
To see a North Korean video illustrating the December 12, 2012 Unha-3 launch sequence and timing, click here. Note the essentially vertical launch period during the first stage burn phase, when the rocket is moving relatively slowly as it rises—and then of course as the first stage drops away, the acceleration picks up during the second stage and in the third stage payload is either inserted into orbit or a ballistic trajectory.
The ballistic trajectory of concern is when the Taeopodong-2 is launched from North Korea northward to approach the U.S. from the North Polar region; the orbit of concern is when the Unha-3 is launched southward to approach the United States from over the South Polar region. We have a limited defense against the Taepodong-2, but none against the Unha-3—in our view this deficiency needs to be addressed with urgency, given our complete vulnerability to the electromagnetic pulse (EMP) that could result if an Unha-3 nuclear weapon payload is detonated over the central U.S.
The Existential EMP Threat.
The figure on the right below shows that a detonation at an altitude of 150 miles or so would expose the entire United States to a major EMP creating havoc—and quite likely shut down the currently unhardened electric power grid upon which essentially everything depends for electricity. The North Koreans have demonstrated that they can launch into orbit at such altitudes a payload that could be a nuclear weapon.
Thus, this is not a hypothetical threat from a technical point-of-view. It is a matter of North Korea’s choice once it obtains a nuclear weapon of appropriate weight. Note that since the weapon is to be detonated in space, there is no requirement for the North Koreans to develop the technology required to survive reentry into the atmosphere, a simplification that saves weight as well as removes a significant technical challenge.
s we have repeatedly observed, many credible witnesses have stated that this single nuclear burst could create an EMP that would cause irreparable damage to the electric power grid, and several hundred million Americans could die within a year from the lack of food, water, disease, and the consequent societal chaos.
So, What To Do?
Of course, we can—and should—threaten to retaliate and destroy the North Korean regime if they do attack us with nuclear weapons whether delivered with ICBMs or FOBS.
But the North Korean leadership may not be deterred and retaliation is little compensation for the ultimate death of several hundred million Americans following an EMP attack. Such concerns are why we have a BMD system to defend against North Korean ICBMs. We also need a defense against FOBS, which is, in fact, easier for the North Koreans to employ.
North Korea has already demonstrated its satellite launch capability. And some believe it already has the nuclear weapon payload to create the EMP. If these folks are right we have little time to spare in building a defense against a FOBS attack from North Korea.
Happily, there is a workable strategy we can easily and rapidly execute, involving several relatively inexpensive steps to build a multi-layered defense against a FOBS. Here are the key steps:
- In addition to a declaratory policy threatening retaliation, the U.S. should demand that all North Korean satellite launch payloads be inspected by an appropriate body in which we have confidence—e.g., the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). If not, it should be our policy that we will shoot down such satellites so launched.
- Upon warning (e.g., North Korean satellite launch site preparations) and in the absence of such an independent payload inspection, move an Aegis BMD Cruiser or Destroyer near enough to the North Korean coasts to shoot down the Unha-3 SLV in its boost phase—as early as during first stage burn, should the North Koreans not comply. With an appropriate modification to its launch algorithms, employ the Aegis SM-2-Block IV, which is 3-for-3 in its tests against ballistic missiles in the atmosphere moving at speeds consistent with the Unha-3 first stage burn time. The target for the intercept would be the upper stages of the Unha-3—even the payload itself, which is far removed from the burning rockets which might otherwise blind the SM-2 interceptor’s sensors. (If the nuclear payload were salvage fused, the intercept could set off the nuclear weapon over the North Koreans.) This action by the Aegis ship Captain should be pre-authorized by appropriate authorities, consistent with the warning provided by step one, so as to assure the intercept can be carried out in a few tens of seconds after the Unha-3 is launched. This requirement is no different than would be the case for any boost-phase intercept defense. To assure high confidence, two interceptors might be fired—even though the single shot kill probability should be very high, given the SM-2 Block IV 3-for-3 test record.
- The SM-3 Block 1A/B interceptors are exo-atmospheric interceptors, so they would face a significant challenge in any attempt at intercepting a satellite before it is injected into orbit—possible but very difficult. In 2008, the Block IA successfully intercepted a dying satellite in orbit—so an ASAT intercept is also a possibility provided needed radar tracking information is provided to the Aegis BMD system. An appropriate radar—say a TPY-2 radar—could be deployed in the Philippines for this specific purpose. When it is available for this mission, the Block 2A will be faster and could reach to even a higher altitude. (The altitude that can be reached is proportional to the square of the interceptor’s burn-out velocity.) This possibility should be real before 2018 when the Romanian Aegis Ashore site is to employ operational Block 2As—earlier test Block 2As might be assigned to a high priority anti-FOBS mission, by placing them on Aegis BMD ships of the Seventh Fleet. Given that the SM-3 test record to date (28-hits-in-34-attempts) suggests a 0.824 single shot kill probability, the kill probability would be about 0.97 if at least two SM-3s are assigned to any attempted intercept.
- The ground based interceptors currently deployed at Vandenberg AFB in California probably have the range capability to intercept a FOBS from North Korea if the Vandenberg command and control system is provided appropriate orbital parameters to cue its interceptors into the right battle space. The same radar in the Philippines recommended in step 3 should be able to provide this needed cuing information. Since the Ground Based Interceptor system test record suggests only a 0.5 single shot kill probability, several interceptors—perhaps all four based at Vandenberg—should be launched to assure a high kill probability. (A shoot-look-shoot strategy could reduce the number required.)
- Finally, even a layered defense will not be perfect, so the electric power grid should be hardened as a top national priority. The appropriate strategy would be to harden first the critical nodes of the grid—particularly their extra high voltage (EHV) transformers, which are not easily replaced and the survival of which would assure the grid can be quickly reconstituted after such an attack provided other critically important components that could be destroyed by the EMP are stockpiled. Implementing this strategy could take years, so we should enable a layered defense as quickly as possible. As noted above, we can and should immediately take inexpensive high-payoff steps to exploit our already existing BMD operational capability.
No Time To Waste!
Very little new investment is needed to execute the first four of these steps immediately, since the proposed approach exploits system components already either operational or under fully funded development programs. Secretary Hagel’s decision to increase the presence of our Aegis BMD ships to help defend Japan and the U.S. from North Korea is certainly a step in the right direction. We just need to make all our existing defenses all they can be! ASAP!
If not initiated now, the “powers that be” should at least assure that the Pentagon considers the above set of recommendations in responding to Section 238 of the 2014 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that directs Defense Secretary Hagel (in consultation with the Commanders of U.S. Strategic Command and U.S. Northern Command, and the Director of the Missile Defense Agency) to consider options to defend the U.S. homeland from ballistic missile “threats that approach the United States from the South . . .”
A North Korean FOBS is just such a threat.
Another threat of concern is an Iranian FOBS, based on their several satellite launches to the south. We’ll consider that threat in a future email message,
Near Term High Frontier Plans.
Yesterday at a meeting sponsored by the Atlantic and Conservation Institute at The Explorers Club in New York City, Dr. Peter Vincent Pry and I discussed these issues and my specific recommendations above with an interested group of senior individuals who could be very influential in helping us spread our message. I hope they will be amplifying our efforts and will keep you informed in future email messages.
We will do all we can to encourage the powers that be to “make the Navy’s Aegis BMD system all it can be” and adopt the above anti-FOBS strategy.
We will continue our efforts to inform state and local authorities about the EMP threat and expand our work with the National Guard to help them gain knowledge and workable plans to help harden the electric power grid and counter the EMP threat. This work should go hand in hand with the efforts to gain support from State legislators to expand on the excellent work in Maine and Virginia, who have passed legislation requiring serious studies of the EMP threat and the needed countermeasures to protect the electric power grid.
The most recent bill passed in record time without single negative vote in Virginia can be used as a ready pattern.
We will continue working with South Carolinians to build a coalition to engage constructively with private citizens and their local and state representatives and other authorities to work with the SC National Guard in understanding and responding to this serious threat. We will expand this effort to neighboring and other states.
We are informing SC state legislators and senators about the threat and what can be done to deal with it—and hopefully they will follow Maine and Virginia in seeking to harden the electric power grid. We also expect support from Cong. Jeff Duncan (R-SC) whose district includes my SC farm—and who is a member of the Congressional EMP Caucus seeking passage of the Shield Act and the Infrastructure Protection Act, as well as other SC representatives.
We will be working with members of the EMP Coalition and others who are seeking to take our message across the country—especially with Bob Newman, a former Adjutant General of Virginia to help us link our SC plans more broadly and especially into Virginia and the National Capital region.
What can you do?
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