August 14, 2017

Against North Korea Nuclear Deterrence Surer Than Ballistic Missile Defences

Shooting down NK ballistic missiles with AEGIS - SM-3 then THAAD in the boost phase and beginning of the mid flight phase is probably the best chance to shoot down the missiles. But still difficult to shoot down all. Shooting down single or multiple missile warheads in the terminal phase when they are plunging from space at hypersonic speeds is the most difficult time to hit them. (Map/Diagram courtesy US Missile Defense Agency, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin via CNN)

Ballistic missile defences (BMD) to defend countries ever further from North Korea (NK) include:

South Korea (SK) relies on:
-  Patriot missiles, 
-  only one battery of US THAAD missiles (more blocked by China)
-  US ship based AEGIS aiming SM-3 missiles. Several ships per US carrier group) see Submarine 
   Matters’ article in April 2017.
-  SK does have AEGIS destroyers but they do net yet have SM-3. 
-  SK lacks its own nuclear weapons - the best deterrent against NK nuclear weapons

Japan has:
-  AEGIS destroyers mounting SM-3 
-  some AEGIS armed US ships may also protect Japan.
-  Patriot missiles
-  For more complete protection Japan could purchase AEGIS ashore and/or THAAD
   (Russia opposes Japan acquiring THAAD. China may oppose THAAD for Japan also.). 
-  Japan lacks its own nuclear weapons - the best deterrent against NK nuclear weapons

Guam has:
-  the US has nuclear weapons - the best deterrent against NK nuclear weapons
-  Japan’s new Defence Minister Onodera said Japan’s right of collective self-defence could legally 
    permit Japan to intercept NK ballistic missiles aimed at (or near) for Guam. But Japan's BMDs
    may be incapable of shooting down an NK missile launched for Guam.

Guam already in range. A risk is NK might aim to launch missiles near Guam but they might hit Guam by mistake - thus resulting in US retaliation. NK is steadily developing ICBM with the range to hit Australia. (Map courtesy The Daily Telegraph).

Australia has:
-  no SM-3, THAAD or Patriot missiles. A major reason is that they would likely be very ineffective
   against ICBM warhead re-entry vehicles once the ICBMs have reached Australian airspace from
   China, Russia or North Korea.

The US capability to extend nuclear deterrence to all of its allies (including South Korea, Japan and Australia) and its own Guam territory, has been tested as effective since 1949 (year of Russia's first nuclear test). Nuclear deterrence has existed much longer than inaccurate BMD systems.

See this very useful interactive site (on SM-3, Aegis, THAAD and Patriots) from the US DoD Missile Defense Agency.



Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

Intercept NK ballistic missiles for Guam is the first execise of the right to collective self-defense based on new interpretation of the Constitution of Japan by Abe administration and means drastic change of defence strategy of Japan. As the Diet of Japan is in recess, Abe administration can make this important decision easily.

THAAD is not deployed in Japan, but, future deployment is considered. Ambassador extraordinary and plenipotentiary of Russia warned not to deploy THAAD in febrary 2017. In deployment of THAAD, not only defensive point of view but also diplomatic effect should be considered especially the effect on Russia. The THAAD deployment has adverse effects on return negotiation of Northern Territories of Japan.


Peter Coates said...

Hi Anonymous [at 14/8/17 10:24 PM]

Thanks for your information and comments.

I have altered the article text for Japan accordingly.



Ztev Konrad said...

South Korea, as expected is alarmed by all the inflammatory talk from Trump and says they need to be consulted
'In Rebuke to U.S., South Korea Warns Against Military Action Without Its Approval'

'It’s only South Korea that can decide on a military action on the Korean Peninsula'

Trumps top advisors dont seem to be reflected the views of the 'loose screw' in the White house.

"In a meeting with Mr. Moon on Monday, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, agreed with the South Korean leader that the standoff over North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats should be resolved through diplomacy and sanctions."

Trump seems to have to same outlook as Kaiser William II in 1914, and the same ridiculous bellicosity

Anonymous said...

Hi Pete

SK President Moon Jae-in said that no one would counduct military activities in the Korean Peninsula without agreement of SK and that SK would stop war in the Korean Peninsula. In contrast to PM Abe who expressed perfect support for US, SK President suggested that SK was in a neutral position at the time of attack on Guam by NK. A crack between American and Korean alliance is currently developing in a silent manner.

Recently, SK President asked permission of SSN development to US counter-part. Though answer of Mr Trump was not reported yet, I believe Mr Trump’s answer was negative.


Peter Coates said...

Hi Ztev and Anonymous [at 17/8/17 3:16 AM]

Yes. South Korea's perspective of not wanting to be a nuclear (missile) or even conventional (missile and artillery shell) battleground is ultimately more compelling than Trump and Kim III's sabre-rattling.

BUT, set against this is - if Trump's hype moves China to pressure Kim to cool his boyish enthusiasm for missile threats then this may be more useful than 2-3 decades of ineffective Western diplomacy and economic sanctions.



GhalibKabir said...

Short story: china must be made to take verifiable ownership of its hydrophobic canine NK.

Actually for once I like trumpenfuhrer's refreshing way of paying back the rascals in beijing through cage rattling. china is the puppet master and it is continuing this 'dog and pony' show of pretending to condemn while allowing black economy links to thrive and clandestinely supporting NKs missile and nuke program..

South Korea's fears are understandable and they are real/serious, but the only way they get to ensure a peaceful existence/escape chubby boy's chinese supplied artillery barrage is by forcing the chinese to see they could also get hurt. That is in real terms via trade or other channels for their bullying and generally despicable behavior.

that in turn is the only lever to get china to put a broomstick so far up pyongyang chubby boy's trousers that they come out at his neck collar..

Peter Coates said...

Mina Pollmann for The Diplomat (paysite) has written an excellent article dated August 31, 2017

about how effective Japan's BMD may be against North Korea's missiles, including:

"Japan’s two-tiered missile defense system – consisting of Patriot Advanced Capability-3 surface-to-air missiles and the ship-based Aegis systems equipped with Standard Missile-3 interceptors – may not be up to the challenge. Upgrades are in the works, but several years out from completion."

"...Though it will take several years to install, and the price must still be negotiated with the United States, just two Aegis Ashore systems with SM-3 Block IIA missiles could cover all of Japan"

"...Japan currently has four Aegis ships properly equipped to defend all of Japan – three is the minimum. But four is just “barely” enough given that some ships will sometimes be out of service due to maintenance. The Defense Ministry wants to double the number of Aegis ships to eight, a goal that will likely not be reached until 2021."

see the whole Diplomat article at

Peter Coates said...

Subsequent report of 1 Feb 2018 concerning another missile intercept failure

"The US military has failed to shoot down an incoming dummy missile from Hawaii during a test, a US official says, amid heightened concerns about North Korea's developing missile and nuclear program.

The official, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said an SM-3 Block IIA missile was launched from an Aegis Ashore test site in Hawaii, but failed to hit another missile launched from an aircraft.

The missile, which is being developed by weapons manufacturer Raytheon, is used to target intermediate range missiles.

The Missile Defence Agency did not comment on the outcome of the test, but confirmed one had taken place.

..."The Missile Defence Agency and US Navy sailors manning the Aegis Ashore Missile Defence Test Complex (AAMDTC) conducted a live-fire missile flight test using a Standard-Missile (SM)-3 Block IIA missile launched from the Pacific Missile Range Facility, Kauai, Hawaii, Wednesday morning," agency spokesman Mark Wright said.

An intercept test for the missile last June also failed, but there was a successful test in early 2017...."

Pete said...

Yuki Watai for The Diplomat, November 28, 2018, has written a great article:

"Is Japan’s Ballistic Missile Defense Too Integrated With the US?"

"Japan runs the risk of entrapment, but seems to accept that fate willingly.

Japan was among the first countries to participate in the U.S.-led Ballistic Missile Defense (BMD) project and decided to introduce its own BMD system in 2003. BMD is a highly integrated system with satellite radars to detect a missile and address it using a multilayered anti-ballistic missile system.

However, so far Japan’s BMD cannot possibly function without U.S. technological and military capabilities, and most of Japan’s BMD developments are predicated on the assumption that the U.S. military will remain a key partner. Over the course of 15 years since the system’s introduction, not only has BMD been an effective tool to strengthen the U.S. alliance and internal defensive capabilities, but also it has created a platform resulting in a highly complex integration of the two militaries.

Japan can no longer say no to the United States — not just because of the broader alliance relationship but because of overreliance on and integration with the U.S. military when it comes to defending Japan against ballistic missiles."


Pete Comment: Much of this is also true of the integration of US and Japanese submarine and LDUUV efforts.