A report released on April 13th by the Asian Institute for Policy Studies is estimating that North Korea could have up to 250 nuclear weapons by 2027.
“It is estimated North Korea has acquired 30-36kg of plutonium and between 175kg minimum and 645 kg maximum of enriched uranium… Based on these numbers, it is estimated that the total number of North Korea’s nuclear weapons by 2027 would be between 151 and 242, in addition to tens of mobile Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles, ICBMs”. — Report: “Countering the Risks of North Korean Nuclear Weapons”, RAND.
The United States has 44 Ground Based Interceptors made up of three generations of missiles that have differing shot doctrines to provide reliability in defeating one North Korean Ballistic Missile carrying a nuclear warhead. In 2028, the United States is expecting the next generation interceptor to replace and enhance the current 44 GBIs to improve the current shot doctrine. There is a clear and present danger of North Korea achieving the ability to overwhelm the United States’ Missile Defense capacity.
The Obama-Biden Administration requested emergency supplemental funding in Fiscal Year 2016 to increase the number of deployed GBIs from 44 to 64 to respond to the growth of North Korea’s long-range missile and nuclear weapons capabilities. Unfortunately, these interceptors were never deployed due to issues encountered during the development of a new kill vehicle for the interceptors. We are therefore even further behind in responding to the North Korean threat that the Obama-Biden Administration was seeking to urgently catch-up in addressing in 2016.
Similarly, China and Russia are also driving to attain overmatch vs. the United States in complex cruise missiles, hypersonic glide vehicles, and ballistic missiles, as they demonstrate and project power on regional fronts with strategic implications.
“For the first time in our history the nation is facing two nuclear-capable strategic peer adversaries at the same time, both of whom have to be deterred differently. Chinese and Russians advances are eroding our conventional and strategic deterrence. China, in particular, I submit cannot be considered anymore a lesser included case in this context. The remarkable expansion of nuclear and strategic capabilities is evidence of their drive to be a strategic peer by the end of the decade.” — Admiral Charles A. Richard, Commander of United States Strategic Command, Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing review of the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2022.
The nation’s Northern Command Commander, General VanHerck, whose responsibility is the defense of the United States homeland in all 50 states from missiles, unequivocally stated in testimony last week: “I think there’s tremendous value in looking at the possibility of an underlayer.”
The Underlayer is made up of the SM3 Block IIA missile defense interceptor which proved during the FTM-44 flight test in 2020 that it has the capability to intercept ICBMs. The THAAD system has potential capability to intercept ICBMs as the FTT-18 was a successful intercept of an IRBM in 2017. These systems are the foundation of the existing underlayer of missile defenses. Thanks to a Joint Emergent Operational Need (JEON) submitted by U.S. Forces Korea that resulted in the ability to layer and integrate Patriot MSE and THAAD, U.S. defenses in the Republic of Korea are better able to deal with the North Korean Missile short to intermediate range threat.
“That underlayer -layered defense of the homeland- should focus everything from small unmanned vehicles all of the way to ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, and everything in between. We can’t afford any longer to build stovepipe systems which have capabilities for only one threat. We need to look more broadly at these systems to achieve affordable solutions to defend the homeland.” — General Glen VanHerck, speaking to the House of Representatives on “National Security Challenges and U.S. Military Activity in North and South America”; April 14, 2021.
“That Underlayer” is being rapidly put forth as part of the architecture in the defense of Guam – which is U.S. homeland and on the forefront of regional strategic competition with China. The Underlayer has already been tested, proven, and validated by the Missile Defense Agency into its Command & Control, Battle Management, & Communications (C2BMC) system, as a supplement to the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system.
“The successful SM-3 Block IIA test -which was a “defense of Hawaii” scenario- demonstrated that we are not and should not be complacent. We should continue to do more to responsibly add defense in depth of our homeland against todays and tomorrow’s rogue ballistic missile threats. A secure U.S. homeland is the most powerful foundation on which we can build toward a more peaceful and less risky future for the American people.” — Vic Mercado, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities, “Why America needs a layered homeland missile defense”.
“That Underlayer” is the only system that is fully capable and operational today, able to provide exactly what General VanHerck describes as a layered defense of the United States. First, United States Navy destroyers and cruisers equipped with the Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense system are capable of defending aircraft carriers and battlegroups. These cruisers and destroyers are mobile platforms with 360-degree sensors, multiple effectors, and a combat system to detect, track, and intercept rockets, small UAVs, cruise missiles, aircraft, and ballistic missiles.
The Aegis system also has the capability to be linked through the Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC) to launch offensive and defensive missiles using data from sensors on other platforms. It is the most efficient and cost-effective air and missile defense layered system ever created. The Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense System is currently deployed on 22 U.S. Navy Ticonderoga-class cruisers, and on 62 Arleigh Burke-class destroyers. This Aegis Combat System has evolved and been upgraded over the past few decades and continues to be driven in evolution by the Chinese missile threat to U.S. carriers.
Assisting “That Underlayer” in missile defense of the Navy’s assets is the Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) concept, with carrier-enabled E-2D’s and F-35C’s serving as critical nodes. Within NIFC-CA, E-2D airborne early warning aircraft can detect hostile aircraft and cruise missile threats at ranges in excess of 550 km and allow remote engagement from Aegis-equipped destroyers. This capability has been tested in live-fire scenarios, where Aegis detected and used a SM-6 missile to engage a target, using data transmitted from an F-35 by way of an integrated network architecture.
Another additional use of capabilities that also have the ability to function as an “Underlayer” has been operationally deployed through a THAAD-Patriot MSE JEON process in the Republic of Korea, which has multiplied existing capabilities in a layered missile defense to defend United States forward-operating forces and the Republic of Korea from North Korea’s arsenal of missiles.
In the event of a national emergency, four fully deployable THAAD batteries are available with three at Fort Bliss, TX and one at Fort Hood, TX. This capability is expected to grow, with an additional THAAD battery at Fort Hood to be fully manned and equipped this year.
In the midst of North Korean threats and the firing of two Taepodong-2 missiles in 2009, THAAD was operationally deployed to the Pacific Missile Range in Kauai, in order to be “That Underlayer” to defend Hawaii. Two THAAD batteries, one from Fort Bliss, TX and the other from Fort Hood, TX previously exercised 72-hour contingency deployments to Israel and Romania to be “That Underlayer”. The THAAD deployment to Romania was a NATO request to support the scheduled maintenance of the AEGIS Ashore System, demonstrating dynamic deployment and lethality globally. Since 2018, a THAAD battery has been included in the ‘Roving Sands’ exercise, the United States Army’s largest Air and Missile Defense maneuver exercise, simulating expeditionary deployment operations.
U.S. Army THAAD expeditionary deployments and contingency exercises have demonstrated the versatility to deploy anywhere in the world and it is a proven capability that can augment the homeland underlayer today. The Patriot missile system also provides enhanced cruise missile defense with MSE (interceptors) integration and interoperability to THAAD. Patriot brings direct engagement capability against all sea-based cruise missile threats to the United States including Hawaii and Alaska. The current fielding of the Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor (LTAMDS) to Patriot within the Integrated Air and Missile Defense architecture provides a 360 sensing and engagement capability that leaves no blind spots against the proliferating sea-based cruise missile threat to the U.S. homeland.
After the successful Patriot-THAAD integration test and intercept, Vice Admiral Jon Hill stated “this capability is vital to the Ballistic Missile Defense System to defend against rogue threats to our homeland, deployed forces and allies.” Currently, 12 U.S. Patriot Battalions comprised of 48 MSE-capable Batteries have home stations spread across Fort Bliss, TX, Fort Bragg, NC, Fort Hood, TX, and Fort Sill, OK.
Both of these “That Underlayers” can be activated, deployed off U.S. coastlines, and on U.S. military bases in North America, Hawai’i and Guam without new construction, new systems, or a tedious acquisition process. Guam is defended today by these capabilities: a rotating Aegis BMD Destroyer off its coast and a THAAD battery on land against the North Korean Ballistic Missile threat.
“The more complex the threat, the more advanced options you wanted at your disposal to counter it. It would be irresponsible if leaders did not strive for some defense in depth, particularly if the lives of U.S. citizens are at stake. This is especially true in homeland missile defense, when the missile threat is growing in number and capability.” — Vic Mercado, Former Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy, Plans, and Capabilities, “Why America needs a layered homeland missile defense”.
“In October 2020, Russia successfully tested its multi-role Tsirkon hypersonic anti-ship missile with land attack capability. These new capabilities are specifically designed to thwart ballistic missile defenses, challenge deterrence, and target our capabilities, increasing risk to allies, partners, and the U.S. homeland.” — Admiral Charles Richard, Commander of United States Strategic Command, HASC Subcommittee on Strategic Forces Hearing on the FY22 Strategic Forces Posture.
“I applaud Congress’s continued support for active defense capabilities to pace the threat and exploration of new capabilities like the Hypersonic Glide Phase Interceptor, high energy laser, and other directed energy technologies. As the Department pursues development of complements to existing Ground-based interceptor (GBI) capabilities, work continues using novel, cost effective options to counter the ICBM threat. The intercept of an ICBM by an Aegis ship utilizing the SM-3 Blk IIA missile in November 2020 highlights one opportunity to recapitalize existing technology. Additional examples include integrating existing sensors for tracking ballistic, hypersonic, unmanned aerial systems, and cruise missile threats.” — Admiral Charles Richard, Commander of United States Strategic Command, Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on the Defense Authorization Request for Fiscal Year 2022.
The United States faces a real and growing threat to our homeland, our forces, and our allies from North Korea’s missiles and nuclear weapons. Threats from Russia and China are also expanding. We have spent decades and billions of dollars across administrations to develop and deploy capabilities that can be deployed at sea and on land with SM-3 IIA interceptors and the THAAD system. It would be irresponsible not to move forward with perfecting operational concepts so Aegis ships armed with SM-3 IIA interceptors can be placed off the coast of the U.S. during emergencies to augment defense of the homeland and to deploy a land-based version of the SM-3 IIA underlay to protect key regions and areas like Hawaii and Guam. We have developed and paid for these forces and capabilities. We should utilize their capabilities to their fullest extent.
The threat is real. Time to act.