What should the United States and its allies do to improve their ability to stop North Korean missiles?
Enhanced missile defense performance would be the best guarantee against a North Korean breakout. Should fighting occur, missile defense performance will determine how much of a time cushion is available to U.S. and allied offensive forces to eliminate the North’s missiles.
North Korea’s missile testing program has shown capabilities that make our missile defense more difficult. For example, by extending tests to orbit and extending the range of their ICBMs, they have expanded the scope of trajectories and targets we need to defend. By using lofted trajectories, the North has increased re-entry velocity and reduced time for defense. By building mobile launchers and submarine-launched missiles, North Korea has eliminated the defenders’ early warning time and reduced its own exposure.
By demonstrating its ability to launch multiple missiles simultaneously, they have complicated our planning. Finally, by creating new threats of global reach, the North has raised the specter of fractional orbital trajectories that allow unpredictable descent paths and, perhaps, the use of electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to cripple the military and civilian infrastructure of the U.S. and our allies. In short, North Korean has increased uncertainty about our ability to respond and increased the time pressure on the US and allies to engage in massive offense or to decide to remain passive.
These new stresses can be met — thanks in part to breakthrough paradigms in signal processing — by sensor, command-and-control (C2), and improvements to our interceptor missiles that deliver much earlier detection and tracking, neutralization of jamming, clutter, and noise, prompt discrimination and kill assessment processing, quicker layered defense engagement planning and faster interception with extended range and secure updating to allow early mid-course and orbital kills.
While major new naval, space, and airborne platforms and related programs are underway, new systems will only come on stream in the early-mid-2020s. And they are subject to serious budgetary and technical risk. To reinforce diplomatic and military efforts in the gap years, we need to see what we can do to enhance existing naval and ground radar signal processing, computation, and communications. In some of these fields, we could work withJapan and the South Korea on co-investments and technical sharing. The current testing of the SM-3 Block 2A missile, co-financed and developed by the United States and Japan, serves as a model. Indeed, the kinematic envelope of the 2A missile, if supported to full extension by appropriate sensor and C2 upgrades, can provide initial capability to neutralize new North Korean challenges.
These unilateral US and cooperative efforts would hopefully give us a credible ability to shoot down North Korean test launches, as well as the means to destroy North Korean nuclear missiles in early mid-course or in orbit. The credibility — and diplomatic bargaining utility — of being able to down North Korean missiles in the early stages of flight could be reinforced by resurrecting development of a higher velocity interceptor — SM-3 Block 2B. Work on that system was suspended in 2013.
Rapid near-term development acquisition of such advanced missile defense capabilities for existing systems to deter and, if necessary, neuter new North Korean missile capabilities — would help provide a sobering effect on Chinese decision-making on future post-2020 options toward Taiwan.
Near-term, qualitative enhancement of existing missile defense systems would give substance to diplomatic entreaties and help protect us and allies should diplomacy fail.
Ambassador Jon Glassman, head of Strategic Initiatives and Partnerships for Monster-Dogs Engineering LLC, was deputy national security advisor to Vice President Dan Quayle and director of government policy for Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems. Glassman is a consultant to Monster-Dogs Engineering LLC, which develops radar signal processing techniques that improve BMD performance. So, he has a dog in this fight.