MDAA was at Army Garrison Yongsan in Seoul, South Korea on Tuesday this week, the day of North Korea’s most successful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) test to date. This ICBM test demonstrated and proved a capability to strike any part of the United States of America. The re-entry vehicle (RV) did break up during re-entry into the atmosphere and did not hit the ocean surface intact. Further, a new North Korean manufactured Transportable Erector Launcher (TEL) was used as the transporter and erector for the two-stage liquid-fueled ballistic missile that had ample room in the RV to carry the thermonuclear weapon tested two months ago by North Korea. The new North Korean ICBM, called the Hwasong-15 similar to the old U.S. Titan missile from the 1960s flew for about 54 minutes, reached an altitude of approximately 4,800km (2,983 miles), and travelled 960km (597 miles) in its lofted launch that did not cross over any country, but landed in the Sea of Japan, within Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
A video released by North Korea showed preparations and the launch of the Hwasong-15 ICBM, with Kim Jong-un – North Korea’s Supreme Leader – in attendance and observing.
“It went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they’ve taken. It’s a research and development effort on their part to continue building missiles that can threaten everywhere in the world, basically.” Stated Secretary of Defense, James Mattis
The United States has a proven ICBM intercept capability with a limited number of 44 Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) that can defend the United States of America with confidence and reliability from the North Korean Hwasong-15 that was launched on Tuesday. North Korea will seek to increase its production of the Hwasong-15 ICBM to overmatch the 44 U.S. GBIs. The United States will have to increase its capacity and production of GBIs to stay ahead of the North Korean nuclear ICBM threat and will now have to move forward with urgency on a third GBI site in the Eastern part of the United States to add depth of layers of ICBM defense by increasing the battle space and time to best defend the entire United States of America.
It is of note that the United States GBIs are not capable, from their current deployments in California and Alaska today, to defeat and defend against lofted North Korean Hwasong-15 ICBMs targeting Guam, Japan and South Korea. Japan, South Korea, and Guam are undefended technically today against a North Korean Hwasong-15 nuclear ICBM as the currently deployed missile defense capabilities in these regions cannot intercept the speeds of an ICBM, nor have they been required, tested, or proven to do so.
The Standard Missile-3 (SM-3) Block IIA, co-developed by the United States and Japan, has an inherent capability to intercept ICBMs. The interceptor is in low rate production and is scheduled next year for a final flight test against ballistic missile targets from the Aegis Ashore site in Hawaii and on the USS John Paul Jones (DDG 53), a Baseline-9 Aegis Destroyer, before being operationally deployed to Japan, Poland and the United States. It is of a national security imperative for Japan and the United States to test the SM-3 Block IIA against an ICBM target from an Aegis Baseline-9 ship as soon as feasible to enable current U.S. Baseline-9 Aegis BMD ships to defend Japan, Guam, and South Korea from the demonstrated North Korean lofted ICBM launch of the Hwasong-15. Proving this capability on U.S. Aegis BMD Baseline-9 ships would enable an additional underlayer of ICBM defense that is sea-mobile, providing more confidence and increasing the percentage of intercept for the defense of Hawaii and major cities on the west coast of the United States against the North Korean Hwasong-15. Having a underlayer of SM-3 Block IIA defense allows more efficiency of the limited number of 44 GBIs until more GBIs are produced by the United States, which is estimated at 2022 when the Redesigned Kill Vehicle begins its first deployment.
To continue to provide stability to this region and this crisis, enabling flexibility in options and preventing nuclear proliferation, the United States of America must produce more ICBM interceptor capacity and capability as soon as possible.
Over 500 million people are threatened by the North Korea’s Hwasong-15 nuclear ICBM and depend on having deployed and operational missile defense capability to defeat it.