The Week That Was: Bad News; Good News


Amb. Henry F. Cooper, Chairman Lt. Gen. Daniel Graham, Founder

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Feb 17 NewsletterClick Picture for Amateur video shows a meteorite falling from the sky in the Ural Mountains in Russia

Sandwiched between two events—one man made and one natural— both of which illustrate real world existential threats to all we hold dear, was an event providing hope that an alert people can take initiatives to avoid those potential catastrophes.  

The “bookend” threatening events were: 1) North Korea’s nuclear test on Tuesday and 2) Friday’s near miss by a couple of “natural” visits from space—one expected and one a complete surprise.

The event providing hope was Wednesday’s successful test of the Aegis BMD system, cued by space-based sensors.  Such defenses can defeat threats from nuclear-armed ballistic missiles, and perhaps provide some help against some of nature’s threats from space—but not all. 

Consider the following elaboration:

North Korean Underground Nuclear Test.

North Korea’s February 12 underground nuclear test, conducted in spite of sanctions and calls from the world community not to proceed with their obvious plans, is the third (previous ones were in 2006 and 2009) in a deliberate progression toward an effective nuclear armed ballistic missile capability with which to threaten the United States.  And North Korea says there are more to come. Connect the dots:

  • While there is comforting controversy in the press about when North Korea will have that capability, it should  be remembered that then CIA Director James Woolsey testified in 1994 that North Korea then had enough plutonium for at least one nuclear weapon—and that they already had the bomb.
  • In 20-years, is it hard to believe that the North Korean have learned how to miniaturize its nuclear weapons to fit on ballistic missiles, in spite of various diplomatic efforts to block their progress?
  • Indeed, the Director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, Lt. General Ronald Burgess, testified in 2011 that North Korea had weaponized its nuclear devices into warheads for ballistic missiles.
  • North Korea has demonstrated they can place into earth orbit satellites of equivalent weight of such a nuclear weapon—from there they could be de-orbited and detonated over essentially any location on the surface of the earth.
  • So, why would anyone be surprised if North Korea now has the needed capability to mate an appropriately miniaturized nuclear weapon to an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can reach the United States?

Moreover, Iranian observers may have been present at Tuesday’s North Korean test—if so, that would only illustrate the well-known “train of proliferation” and also should surprise no one. 

Iran also has launched satellites into space—thus, they also have an inherent ICBM capability. 

Furthermore, this train could extend to terrorist groups that would be happy to purchase nuclear weapons to kill Americans—getting and launching an ICBM would be more difficult. 

But this would implement Osama bin Laden’s 1998 Fatwa, and should not be discounted. However, there is an easier way for terrorists to kill Americans with nuclear weapons.

As discussed previously, North Korea, Iran and terrorists do not need ICBMs to threaten the existence of the United States—short or medium range ballistic missiles could be launched from vessels off our coasts to detonate a nuclear weapon over the U.S. a hundred miles up to create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP), with consequences that within a year could lead to the death of two-thirds to ninety percent of all Americans. 

Key Milestone in Developing Effective Ballistic Missile Defenses.

Wednesday saw a milestone event that offers more than a little hope in defending against this existential threat. See the Pentagon’s press release below, describing the important event whereby the Aegis BMD system deployed today on 24 Cruisers and Destroyers around the world was enabled by space-based sensors to shoot down a medium-range ballistic missile. And that system is growing in numbers and capability.

Feb 17 Newsletter III

Aegis ships are usually on station on both the U.S. East and West Coasts—but not in the Gulf of Mexico. There, we need “Aegis Ashore” to protect against ship launched short and medium range ballistic missiles that could carry a nuclear weapon to high altitudes (say a hundred miles) and detonate it over the United States.  We are planning to build such sites in Romania (by 2015) and Poland (by 2018).  Why not at military bases around the Gulf of Mexico.

As discussed previously, the resulting electromagnetic pulse (EMP) from such a high altitude nuclear burst could create havoc by shutting down the electric power grid and essentially all infrastructure that depends on electricity.  Senior experts chartered by Congress to study this problem a decade ago have testified that, while there would be little immediate loss of life, the immediate result also would be to return life in the United States to the ways of the eighteenth century—and without the agricultural support of that era, up to 90-percent of all Americans could perish within a year.  Our “just in time” economy is critically dependent on transportation systems that would be stymied by the EMP from a high altitude burst—affecting the availability of food, water, medicine, communications, banking, etc.

Re-establishing the currently configured electric power grid could be very difficult, if not impossible, because the U.S. has few spares for the key transformers which would be catastrophically damaged by EMP unless hardened.  We no longer produce them within the United States, and transportation of new transformers from Germany or South Korea, where they are now built, would be problematic. 

Congress has failed since 2005 to address this problem, then identified by the congressionally chartered EMP Commission.  See then Senator Kyl’s 2005 Washington Post article—as discussed in High Frontier’s last email report. Hopefully, the current congress will do better. 

Assuring that the electric grid can be quickly restored is not only important in the event of a nuclear EMP attack; it is vital to dealing with the threat from nature previously discussed and highlighted by the other bookend event this week.

Nature’s Warning “Out of the Blue.”

The scientific community was prepared on Friday to observe 2012 DA14, a long anticipated asteroid as it passed near the earth in astronomical terms, some 17,000  miles up—lower than many of our communication satellite orbits. This happened as anticipated—but was upstaged by a surprise, “out of the blue” so to speak.

A completely unexpected, unnamed “smaller” 10-ton meteor whizzed by Russia’s Ural mountains at some 40,000 miles an hour from a different direction and within the earth’s atmosphere, reportedly shedding more energy than 20 Hiroshima atomic bombs (each equivalent to13,000 tons of high explosive).

It “exploded” near the city of Chelyabinsk, reportedly breaking windows, collapsing roofs, creating other damage and injuring around 1200 people, mostly from flying glass—but causing no deaths, while it and related events were being recorded by countless crack-of-dawn drivers with electronic cameras.

The last time such an event occurred was in 1908—over a century ago when the much larger Tunguska event leveled 800 square miles of Siberian forest.  Sound familiar? At least NASA is spending a few tens of millions considering the potential threat from these infrequent events and what might be done to counter a future threat of a meteor approaching Earth. 

So who is preparing to deal with a solar Carrington event—which destroyed telegraph systems in 1859 and today could leave us in an 18th century economy without 18th century means for survival? Scientists also expect the frequency of such events might be on the order of a century or so.

The Washington Post (and numerous other papers) carried an excellent article telling this week’s story on February 16—but for our purposes, the more interesting observation comes from the last two paragraphs of Steve Tracton’s February 14 article written in anticipation of the 2012DA14 flyby:   

“. . . Whether or not an asteroid threatens Earth in my lifetime – notwithstanding the extensive media coverage this [anticipated] event has received – I personally am not going to lose much sleep over it.

What does keep me up at night – or at least thinking a lot about, is the more likely and possibly more imminent hazard presented by an end to life as we know it from a solar storm. I’ll have status report on this very real concern in a forthcoming post. (Spoiler alert: complacency given by the relative quiescence of the sun as the solar max approaches is far from warranted.)”

Indeed, we look forward to Tracton’s future article and will forward it to you when it appears. 

In any case, we must alert the public to the existential threats posed by both manmade and natural means—and what can be done about these threats

Missile defenses may help protect against meteors under some scenarios—but not against solar flares.  As noted above, the powers that be must be persuaded, or if needed, directed to take preventative measures.

High Frontier will be spreading the word to press the powers that be to provide for the common defense as they are sworn to do.  Will you do your part?

Begin by passing this message to your friends and suggest they visit our webpage, for more information. Also, please encourage your sphere of influence to sign up for our weekly e-newsletter!

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