Missile Defense 101: N. Korea could hit with little warningMay 17, 2017
The scenario has become pretty familiar by now. Sometime in the early morning, a missile roars off its launcher in North Korea and flies off — to a splash zone somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. But what if Pyongyang wasn’t just testing its hardware or drilling its troops? How long would it take to hit its real-world, primary targets?
Below, two experts talk to The Associated Press about what would happen if North Korea fired at targets near and far. They are David Wright, senior scientist and co-director of the Global Security Program of the Union of Concerned Scientists, and analyst Markus Schiller, of ST Analytics, an independent space technology and rocketry consulting company based in Germany.
The takeaway: It would get very messy, very fast.
SEOUL: FROM ESSENTIALLY ZERO TO 6 MINUTES
Well before North Korea had a nuclear program, it realized it could hold the 10 million people of greater Seoul, the capital of South Korea, hostage with the threat of a massive, conventional artillery strike from its dug-in gun batteries concentrated just north of the Demilitarized Zone.
If it were to launch such a strike first, the first wave of shells could land with essentially no warning. Estimates vary as to how much damage such an attack could actually wreak — Pyongyang can’t, as it has claimed, reduce Seoul to a sea of ashes before a pulverizing counterattack — but it would be considerable.
Seoul’s defenses are porous.
It has Patriot missile-defense batteries, but they are intended to protect against short-range Scud missiles. They would not help against an artillery attack. The much-talked-about, state-of-the-art THAAD missile defense system deployed in South Korea this month also cannot protect Seoul from either artillery or incoming missiles — it isn’t designed to do that from its current site.
To make things uglier, the North could hit the South with chemical or biological warheads.
One nuclear scenario that has been raised is an attack on the city of Busan, a major port sometimes used by the U.S. Navy. That’s an option Pyongyang might consider if it believed it was under immediate threat of attack and wanted to make a show of overwhelming force to keep Washington from committing further.
TOKYO: 10-11 MINUTES
Japan also has Patriot missiles it deploys, among other places, on the grounds of its Defense Ministry in downtown Tokyo.