“In the public parade we saw on the 10th of October, we saw additional capabilities, an additional missile. Now, they’re up to three missiles that we assess could strike our homeland… We always maintain the ability to defend our homeland and, obviously, the right to defend the homeland. We’re postured each and every day through ground-based interceptors which create deterrence by denial.” — General VanHerck, Commander of USNORTHCOM, stated in a press briefing on 16 March, 2021.
“…North Korea’s continued pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs constitutes an extraordinary threat to the United States and our allies and partners in the region”. — General Abrams, Commander of U.S. Forces Korea, stated in the House Armed Services Committee Hearing, on 10 March, 2021.
“I’ll just say…go and look at the video of the North Korean parade, and you will just see different missiles coming through on that parade… North Korea is continuing to move forward in their capabilities, which means, on the defensive side, we have to continue to move forward as well”. — General Hyten, Vice-Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, stated at a CSIS webinar, on February 23rd, 2021.
Reports from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the United Nations (UN) indicate that Pyongyang has further pursued the development of its nuclear program. IAEA inspectors, who have been monitoring the North’s activities via satellite, said that North Korea remains “a cause for serious concern”, as construction on nuclear facilities continues, testing persists, and operations are occurring at a Yongbyon thermal plant complex to provide heat to a nuclear fuel rod reprocessing facility. A confidential United Nations report, in January, found that Pyongyang has continued to seek nuclear material from its allies, and has carried on with the production of “fissile material, maintained nuclear facilities, and upgraded its ballistic missile infrastructure”.
In addition, North Korea is ramping up to revive its long-range and intercontinental-range ballistic missile testing which has been dormant since the beginning of the Trump Administration.
“The North Korean regime has also indicated that it is no longer bound by the unilateral nuclear and ICBM testing moratorium announced in 2018, suggesting that Kim Jong Un may begin flight-testing an improved ICBM design in the near future.” — Gen. Glen VanHerck said in his written testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Tuesday, March 16, 20201.
In the Spring of 2016, North Korea test-launched an ICBM that triggered an assessment by President Obama’s and Vice-President Biden’s Administration of the growing capacity of the North Korean ICBM nuclear threat to the United States homeland. This resulted in requesting an additional 20 ground-based interceptors (GBI), with 20 new silos, to be deployed in Missile Field 4 at Fort Greely, Alaska, to make the total of 64 GBIs by 2028 — the number that would be required to defend the United States homeland in order to mitigate the strategic strike risk from North Korea.
Over the past four years, under President Trump, 20 new silos were constructed in Missile Field 4 at Fort Greely, Alaska, but there were no additional interceptors deployed to add to the 44 GBIs. There was also a cancelation of the RKV (Redesigned Kill Vehicle) program and an introduction of the Next-Generation Interceptor (NGI), that has yet to be awarded for beginning the development-to-deployment process. This predicament of waiting until 2028 to add more capacity to the current 44 GBIs, on a 5-year-old assessment by the Obama/Biden Administration, in the face of North Korea’s non-stop growing production, to add 20 more GBIs, creates tremendous risk for the Command and the President, who are responsible for the defense of the United States homeland, between now and 2028.
The NGI is a much-welcomed solution in increasing reliability, lowering shot doctrine, and being more cost-efficient per intercept, but it remains -under the best conditions- 7 years away, and more likely 10 to 12 years reflecting the normal process of DoD acquisition, if the NGI is awarded this Spring. Given a flat or declining DoD budget, NGI will be challenged and will also have a challenge in fitting into a new deterrence strategy and policy, by President Biden and his Administration, which is expected to come out soon.
“The key thing is to maintain the timeline of no-later-than 2028, for NGI, to ensure that we maintain capacity and capability to defend against the ballistic missile threat.” — Gen. Glen VanHerck in front of the Senate Armed Services Committee, on Tuesday, March 16, 20201.
Mitigation of this risk has not been adequately addressed with the remaining total of 44 GBIs, made up of three generations, for which a high shot doctrine is required for reliability — thus leaving a very limited capacity to defend against a growing North Korean nuclear ICBM force over the next 8-12 years. And none of this takes into consideration a breakout from Iran.
The Nation is working hard to improve the reliability of the existing 2004 GMD (Ground-Based Midcourse Defense) system, by deploying a new long-range discrimination radar (LRDR) in Clear, Alaska, and life-extending the current three generations of GBIs without replacing them -to include new boosters- and getting more reliability in the command-and-control operations. Space-based discriminating ICBM sensors, for cold-on-cold Space discrimination, to best enable birth-to-death tracking, have yet to be fully developed, acquired, and deployed.
Left-of-launch systems and tactics have been highlighted and pressed into service in order to relieve the pressure from, and vulnerability of, a limited missile defense system capacity (right-of-launch).
“In coordination with the Missile Defense Agency, the United States Strategic Command and SPACECOM, we’re maintaining and improving upon our ballistic missile defense capabilities. We’re placing significant emphasis on a left-of-launch framework that will provide decision space for our senior leaders, enabling deterrence and de-escalation options vice end-game defeat. We’re advocating for investment in all-domain awareness to generate a layered sensing grid and a layered defense approach that emphasizes the use of an open sensor-data architecture and machine-enhanced processing, in order to achieve information dominance and decision superiority. Through information dominance, we will grant decision-makers the increased decision space and build upon flexible response options to deter, deny, or defeat every threat to the United States” – Air Force General Glen D. VanHerck, Commander, U.S. Northern Command, stated in USNORTHCOM-USSOUTHCOM Joint Press Briefing, March 16th, 2021.
Left-of-launch deterrence, or deterrence by denial, is a powerful strategy, and combined with right-of-launch defense, it is the most effective long-term deterrence strategy. In its very best application, this strategy has to rely on the assessment that North Korea would believe that the United States would strike first: a preemptive strike so thorough that none, or a very limited amount, of North Korea’s capabilities would be able to respond back against the United States homeland. Although the UK came out this week to state that they have the right to preemptive strike with their nuclear weapons, that is not a policy that the United States executive branch or Congress would support or endorse. The reality in the United States, is the American homeland would have to withstand the blow of a North Korean nuclear ICBM strike before it would retaliate. Therein lies the fundamental risk: does the United States have enough GBIs, which today and until 2028 remain at 44 with its variance in shot doctrine, to defend its homeland and population?
President Obama and Vice-President Biden declared in 2016 that we didn’t have enough and authorized 20 more GBIs by 2028. What has drastically changed since 2016 that would demonstrate North Korea has reduced its capacity development and modernization of its nuclear ICBMs?
This is a serious issue for the national security of the United States. Rapid technology and policy solutions should be developed and put forward to mitigate this great risk to our national security.
The FTM-44 test on November 17, 2020 with an Aegis BMD ship shoot-down intercept of an ICBM by an SM3 Block II-A interceptor cannot be ignored. It is a proven capability with a current production line that can be increased for capacity, and can be deployed today on Aegis BMD ships, on Aegis Ashore Sites in Hawaii and Guam, and, if necessary, the ships can be and will be called back to defend the United States homeland off of its coasts.