Saturday, July 29, 2017

North Korea's second ICBM launch could have reached well into continental US


Early Friday EDT time, North Korea launched an ICBM that stayed in the air over 40 minutes, seems to have longer range than the July 4, and has been reported by various sources as capable mathematically to reach Denver, Chicago, or conceivably New York.  Washington DC and Baltimore, maybe Philadelphia seem just beyond range by Great Circle routes.  The test came on the 64th anniversary of what North Korea claims is its victory day.  There have been firings from multiple land locations in North Korea and from a submarine, at various times of day, to make missile launches hard to predict and detect in advance. 

Here’s a New York Times op-ed on the “new normal” by the AP, link. 

Jay P. Lefkowitz argues that we need a “new approach” here

It sounds likely that the missile this time had no payload. A weapon would increase its mass and reduce its range on this particular test. However, the acceleration of the range of DPRK's weapons is striking, much more than what was expected, and the idea that a nuclear strike on the US from DPRK would be possible by mid 2018 sounds credible.

Any official talk (or even public "trash talk") of “regime change” could trigger a pre-emptive strike from Kim Jong Un, who may be less stabled and less tolerant of indignation than we want to believe.  But note that no tests so far have traveled as far as Japan, although they have landed in Japanese-controlled water 50 miles out.

  
We won’t be able to follow DPRK’s ability to put a nuclear warhead on a missile as well as we can calculate the parabolic ranges of his missile tests.  But it does sound like a sudden attempted attack, perhaps out of a temper tantrum after one of Trump’s outbursts or even over a private company’s actions (Sony case) on America by mid 2018 is possible, at least a “marginal” or even “slight” risk in SPC terminology.  It’s likely that any device would be crude and small.  But we don’t know for sure, and James Woolsey has repeated warned about the possibility of EMP attacks from satellite, so presumably that is possible from an ICBM, especially over northwestern North America, although not much has been written about the comparative engineering challenges an enemy faces in actually doing this.
There are conflicting reports about the readiness of US missile defenses and NORAD, and the capacity to improve defenses before 2018.  I worked for the Navy Department as a civilian computer programmer 1971-1972 on missile interception algorithms, so I presume there have been considerable advances since then.   If NORAD did intercept a missile approaching Alaska, for example, would Trump immediately retaliate?  If an EMP blackout happens over South Korea or Japan, it will be pretty clear who is guilty. But what if it happens over Alaska and Western Canada?  Have technology companies figured out how to protect their hardware and databanks? 

The Washington Post has an editorial today, "What if sanctions on North Korea don't work? "  Are we all "On the Beach" listening to "Waltzing Matilda"?



Update: July 30

Max Fisher has a balanced perspective on North Korea's intentions in the New York Times today, link.



Update: July 31

Presumably North Korea could prove it can mount a small nuclear payload with another blast that lands near its own coast after parabolic high altitude route. The reduction in height and distance would give a mathematical idea of how much the payload reduces range. Possibly DPRK could try a test like this from a Chinese-designed submarine in the open Pacific.  It's not clear how effectively the US Navy detects foreign submarines approaching its own territory.  Some "right-wing" pundits have suggested that a terrorist (with help of a rogue state like North Korea or maybe Iran) could launch a scud from a hijacked commercial ship with a small nuclear weapon to produce an EMP blast.  See Michael Maloof's "A Nation Forsaken" reviewed on Books blog April 13, 2013.

Logically, demands from DPRK for the US to withdraw from dedending South Korea (the "hostage") would seem justify a pre-emptive strike, but these might not be made until DPRK had launched a test like described above.  Diplomacy with China does not look promising right now, as Trump has previously said "China is not your friend."

Senator Diane Feinstein's remarks on CBS "Face the Nation" July 29 are here. Wall Street Journal is quite blunt about nuclear blackmail of American cities and urges "regime change" from within. That is exactly what could prompt a nuclear strike or EMP attack om us if we're too late. I llike the line "Thanks for letting us know.

And Trump, among all the Carnage in his White House (no one as vomited yet like in Roman Polanski's movie), says, "I'll take care of it,"  There may be some post-mortem comfort food in the fact that so far North Korea's ICBM's apparently burned up in re-entry, so they may not be advanced as quickly as DIA estimated. 

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