Tuesday, July 4, 2017

North Korea's latest missile launch is a real threat to the USA

I've noticed several comments to the effect that North Korea's latest missile launch traveled 'less than 600 miles', and is therefore not a threat to the USA.  That's completely wrong.  The missile looks to have been intercontinental in range, as Stratfor's analysis reveals.

At 9:10 a.m. local time on July 4, North Korea launched a new ballistic missile, the Hwasong-14, from the Panghyon Airport in North Pyongan Province. The Hwasong-14 was tested at a lofted, or steep, trajectory. This flight path maximizes the altitude of the missile and reduces its distance traveled in order to avoid overflying neighboring regions and countries such as Japan. Pyongyang further claimed that the Hwasong-14 missile was an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile — a statement that is thus far backed up by the available flight data.

The Hwasong-14 achieved the farthest distance traveled by a North Korean missile in tests so far. The previous longest shot occurred on May 14 with a test of the Hwasong-12. That missile reached an apogee of 2,111.5 kilometers (1312 miles) and a range of around 700 kilometers (435 miles) with a flight time of 30 minutes.

The July 4 Hwasong-14 flight characteristics show a clear improvement. According to the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, the missile landed more than 930 kilometers (578 miles) away from its launch point. According to the Japanese Ministry of Defense, the observed apogee of the missile greatly exceeded 2,500 kilometers. Finally, the United States Pacific Command reported that the flight time of the missile was 37 minutes. Given these flight details, the North Korean missile should technically be able to reach a distance of more than 6,000 kilometers (3,278 miles) on a standard trajectory.

Given that 5,500 kilometers is the minimum range for a missile to be classified as an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile, the North Korean claim that the latest test was an ICBM is substantiated by the missile's flight data. The assumed range of the missile is about 6,000 to 6,500 kilometers, which would enable Pyongyang to reach all of Alaska, but would not yet give North Korea the ability to strike the Hawaiian Islands or the continental United States.

. . .

With the White House already signaling its determination to prevent further North Korean progress, the July 4 Hwasong-14 missile test tilts an increasingly precarious regional balance.

There's more at the link.

North Korea has already successfully tested ballistic missile re-entry vehicles, and has demonstrated its possession of nuclear weapons.  If it develops this ICBM only a little further, it'll be in a position to threaten the entire west coast of the USA.  Given the unstable, xenophobic, insular regime in Pyongyang, that's an intolerable threat . . . one that this country simply cannot tolerate.  The question is, what to do about it?  A conventional war on the Korean peninsula would devastate both North and South Korea, and probably draw in China and Russia as well, leading to a 'hot war' superpower confrontation that might not remain confined to the region.  On the other hand, a surgical nuclear strike against North Korea's missile and nuclear facilities would not take out its massive conventional forces, which would almost certainly launch an offensive against South Korea in response.  President Trump has a real dilemma on his hands here.

I wonder whether that dilemma might not be behind the recent US decision to sell advanced weapons to Taiwan?  The Chinese are incensed by it.  Might it be a signal to them that if they won't 'play ball' over North Korea, and use their influence to help resolve the situation there, they can't expect the USA to 'play ball' with them over Taiwan - or, for that matter, over the disputed South China Sea islands, where a US Navy destroyer has just sailed?

Whatever's going on behind the scenes, I expect action in or around North Korea within a matter of months.  The danger from that unstable nation is too great to allow the situation to get any further out of hand.



C. S. P. Schofield said...

It's high time we told the Mainland Chinese "Look, either this neutral is your cat's paw, if which case get him the fuck under control or we will have trouble, or he is at least as big threat to you as he is to us. He's your fucking neighbor; control him or squash him, but do it soon."

Uncle Lar said...

The current best guess is that while NK does have nuclear weapons they don't have anything compact enough to fit on a missile. But that's only a matter of time and engineering.
Looking at the numbers you offered what struck me was that what they could reach with their current performance levels is the ISS. It's orbit is at 250 miles and 51 degrees inclination to make it accessible from Russian launch sites so it would be a sitting duck for a NK launch. And a missile with a payload of conventional explosives detonated in front of ISS or just a dumb impact would take out the station and strike a blow at both Russia and the U.S. for little Kim.

Anonymous said...

I think that it is high time that we tell South Korea to fend for themselves. If they are not interested (and they are not) in a full and deep defensive and offensive military, then why should we send more of our sons and brothers to die.

Also, cut Japan loose and tell them to do what they need to do to defend against Norks or China. Insist that other countries spend the maximum amount of blood and treasure. Insist that other countries inhabited by adults to operate like adult countries, responsible for their own defense instead of relying upon the U.S. In a parent-child relationship. Do the same with Europe; unless they put forth with every penny needed for their own national defense, we are out.
Stay home, build the size and power of our own military, protect our own borders, and launch an immediate annihilating response upon any that dare to attack, such that the rest of the world recoils in horror.

Will said...

12:05pm ^^^^ This?
Peter, what are your thoughts? I'm inclined to lean this way, but I suspect there are factors that are not immediately obvious that could turn out to be very problematic. What happens when we "slip their leash"?

A Texan said...

Why do we meddle in these places all the time? Yes, let China, Japan, South Korea, and Russia deal with him.

The fact is that one reason to have a nuclear weapon is not to be bullied by a bigger country with better weapons. Maybe like the US for example.

I'm sure if we meddled less and could heel the industrial military complex, we could get by on a handful of carriers and a smaller military if we stayed at home.

Anonymous said...

I'm not terribly concerned. The U.S. faced a far more capable and much graver nuclear threat from the Soviets for decades.

The DPRK believes, and probably rightly so, that the only way to preserve their weird corrupt oppressive national cult is to have a credible nuclear deterrent. For them that means a handful of ICBMs, preferably road mobile, with the capability to reach a good portion of the CONUS. They also believe that a number of shorter range weapons would counter any moves by any regional power from meddling with them. They're not stupid. They've watched the U.S. invade Iraq, Afghanistan etc and it's not lost on them that the U.S. hasn't invaded another nuclear power. They probably also took notice of Libya. Libya voluntarily gave up its entire nuclear program to appease the U.S. and Europe. They basically put everything in a box, including burning their sources and channels to obtain controlled materials and even the actual bomb designs they'd purchased, wrapped it up with a bow and presented it on bended knee to the US government. The DPRK leadership watched how that worked out for Muammar Gaddafi and his family.

Let's assume the DPRK gets, and they likely will without an all out land invasion and occupation of North Korea, a dozen or so ICBMs and a similar number of nuclear armed intermediate range missiles. They would have no reason to use them unless directly invaded by the U.S. or regional power. Other than to saber rattle during annual US ROK exercises and to parade them through Pyongyang for the cameras their only real use is to ensure the territorial integrity of the DPRK and the survival of its weird little rulers.

Their arsenal wouldn't be any sort of grave threat to the US. The U.S. nuclear forces were designed to fight an extended thermonuclear war with the Soviet Union. This entailed thousands of large, accurate Soviet weapons being detonated on U.S. soil and against our forces around the globe. While the numbers of U.S. and Russian weapons have been greatly reduced, the ability to fight such a war still exists and is actually much improved over what existed during most of the cold war. My point is that a dozen or 50 North Korean ICBMs aren't a mortal threat to the US. The DPRK leadership knows that too and they know full well that the use of such weapons would result in their individual deaths and the deaths of a large percentage of the people they rule.

Anonymous said...

Continued from 12:43AM above:

This is an issue we'd better get comfortable with because it is the future. Nuclear weapons are the most effective method to ensure the territorial integrity and government survival of nations. You think the Russians would've been as bold about seizing its historic port of Sebastopol if the Ukraine had kept the 5000 or so Soviet era weapons they had after the break up of the USSR? Would the U.S. have been as enthusiastic about meddling in internal Ukrainian affairs if they were a nuclear power with a few thousand nuclear weapons floating around? Technology advances. The Iranians will eventually have them. The Gulf States probably have access to Pakistani weapons and are actively seeking to develop their own. Japan and the ROK could have them in a matter of months if they decided to. A number of European countries could have their own deterrents in fairly short order if they chose to.

Our best course of action in the current era is the one Washington advised in his farewell address "...to steer clear of permanent alliance with any foreign part of the world" and Jefferson's admonition for "peace, commerce and honest friendship with all nations - entangling alliances with none." South Korean security is their own look out. Nor do we have any vital national interests in Syria or in rocks and reefs in Asia that various parties are squabbling over. There'd be a damn sight fewer Americans buried in Arlington and around the globe and we'd be more free and less impoverished if we'd have only heeded Washington's and Jefferson's words of warning.

JohninMd.(HELP?!??) said...

We had an advantage there, in that the Soviets wanted to control the world, but knew they had to live to enjoy it. Kim is certifiable, perhaps enough to do a Nuke "suicide by cop" with his bigger neibhors. He does not seem adverse to taking the country with him if deposed, and his brain-washed minions would go along....

Glen Filthie said...


I'm not worried about Nork missiles at all. I will be willing to bet there are suitcase and basement nukes scattered all over the US in Chinese, Russian and Moslem safe houses. Why bother with unreliable, expensive delivery systems?

Anonymous said...

Having one or two nuke capable missiles is not much of a threat. It does mark your country to be targeted for massive counter strike. So goes Iran in a few years.

IMHO it's better to have no nukes than a few with limited launch capabilities.


August said...

Oh, look, you fell for the marketing.

We need perceived threats so that our arms industry can sell stuff to people. Or worse, sell it to our own government, so we have to pay for it.

Antibubba said...

I suspect we'll see a "coup" in NK, backed by the Chinese, who put a much more agreeable Supreme Leader in place.