July 11, 2017—

So … What’s New, Pussycat?

Posted on July 10, 2017
by Henry F. Cooper

“Certainly, we do not want for things to get to a military conflict . . .” but if North Korean leaders “elevate the threat of their weapons program to a level that we believe requires action, that option [a military response] is on the table.” ~Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Reuters, March 17, 2017

As I reflected on this stated policy telegraphing an end to the Obama “strategic patience” in dealing with matters in North Korea and China and the events of the past week, I could not get out of my mind a Tom Jones song from 1965 — “What’s New, Pussycat?” For your amusement, click here for a YouTube recording, associated with a movie of the same name. For me, it seems better to laugh than cry.

In the 1960s, I was serving in the Air Force Weapons Laboratory — working to understand how to protect our strategic systems against nuclear weapons effects. In that era, X-Ray and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) effects were so classified that they were seldom mentioned publically, because we had discovered our strategic systems were vulnerable to them. Many of us then serving in the Air Force worked for the next several decades to rectify that situation.

But many of our military systems and essentially all our civil infrastructure remain as vulnerable today — actually they are even more vulnerable because we now are much more dependent on electronics and especially the proliferation of Supervisory Control and Acquisition Data (SCADA) systems, the little computers that are everywhere. Same old problem, but this new reality threatens a “new” and very troublesome vulnerability to EMP and cyber attacks.

Recent events, including North Korea’s July 4th launch of a new ICBM from a Chinese mobile launcher and President Trump’s meetings in Poland and at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg are certainly no love story, but the song title “What’s New, Pussycat?” poses an appropriate question.

To briefly summarize one important new thing that I perceive from the recent events, I recommend that you click here for Victor Davis Hansen’s discussion of the European situation, especially NATO, in his as usual thoughtful National Review article, “Lord Ismay, NATO and the Old-New World Order.” He reminds us of NATO’s First Secretary General, Lord Hasting Ismay and his 1952 summary of the reasons for forming NATO: “To keep the Russians out, the Americans in and the Germans down.”

Hansen briefly but cogently discusses the original reasons for this original goal and argues that Lord Ismay might today warn that the situation has morphed into one that suggests NATO is withering on the vine: “Russia is a bit in, America is somewhat out, and Germany is more up than down.” Not a happy picture, but at least an apt summary of new strategic challenges in Europe.

But regarding the unpleasant “surprise” on July 4th, when North Korea launched its alleged first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), not so much that’s new. A “wake up call” that should not have been a surprise!

This important demonstration “burst the balloon” of numerous suggestions (including from the Intelligence Community) that North Korea was still years away from achieving that objective. Moreover, many of these “happy-face” slow-learners still say that it will be years before North Korea will have miniaturized its nuclear weapons and mated them to its ballistic missiles that can threaten the United States. Really???

A Little History.

Consider a few facts. For three generations of Kims, achieving this capability has been North Korea’s goal — and U.S. efforts to block that effort have just as consistently dismally failed.

Perhaps President Truman should have listened to General Douglas MacArthur rather than firing him on April 11, 1951 for extending the Korean War battles into China. North Korea’s alliance with China and Russia (that also shares a border with North Korea) remains a key and much more troublesome issue today, as evidenced by President Trump’s difficulties in his vain hope for help from China (or Russia) in dealing with Kim Jong Un.

Lest you think the Great Leader has some other purpose in mind, consider the figure below from briefings often given for several years by Dr. Peter Vincent Pry, Staff Director of the EMP Commission. I can independently validate his claims in this chart — and have done so in previous messages. Consider the “April 2013” photo, from over four years ago calling for a plan to strike the U.S. homeland — and consider several other historical facts.

The Manhattan Project began modestly in 1939 in response to the now famous letter from Albert Einstein to President Roosevelt; escalated in 1942 to a super-secret project centered at Los Alamos, New Mexico (almost immediately penetrated by Soviet spies and sympathizers); and produced the first U.S. atomic bombs employed on August 6 and 9, 1945 to end the war with Japan in the Pacific and World War II overall.

The United States conducted its first atomic test on July 16, 1945, just six years before Truman fired MacArthur. It was the “implosion-design” bomb dropped on Nagasaki — Russia copied this same “Fat Man” design (based on its espionage activities at Los Alamos’ top secret projects) and conducted its first test barely four years later on August 29, 1949 — notably at the time a great surprise to our Intelligence Community and about two years before President Truman fired General MacArthur, long before China got the “bomb.”

Notably, so confident were the Manhattan Project scientists and engineers that “Little Boy,” the “gun design” atomic bomb, would work that it was not tested before it was dropped on Hiroshima, three days before “Fat Man” was dropped on Nagasaki to end World War II and save hundreds of thousands of allied troops who most likely would have died in invading the Japanese mainland.
China tested its first atomic bomb nineteen years later, on October 16, 1964, with Russia’s help of course. A point from this actual history is that it took about 20 years from our use of atomic weapons to end World War II for both Russia and China to test their atomic bombs and begin deploying them.

And how long has North Korea been working on its nuclear weapons? With help from Russia and China! Both were part and parcel to the “cacophony of proliferation,” including the A.Q. Kahn network that gave nuclear weapons to Pakistan and helped to enable the aspirations of North Korea’s ally Iran (and others).

It’s almost 53 years since China’s first test and 64 years since the July 27, 1953 armistice was signed by military leaders of the United Nations Command, China and North Korea. Since then, North Korea has no fewer than 6-times announced it would no longer abide by the armistice — in 1994, 1996, 2003, 2006, 2009, and 2013. All talk and no progress from our perspective. But effective stalling tactics from North Korea’s perspective.

And more than enough time to develop nuclear weapons, don’t you think?

North Korea has now conducted five underground nuclear tests — in 2006, 2009, 2013 and twice in 2016, any or all of which could be of enhanced radiation weapons to create an electromagnetic pulse (EMP) to threaten the population of any nation above which such a weapon is detonated. And their estimated yields are up to 2-3 times our initial atomic bombs we dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1944.

Click here for an important summary article on North Korean nuclear weapons by David Albright, founder and president of the Institute for Science and International Security. He reports that the North Koreans now have between 13 and 30 nuclear weapons and can build as many as five more every year

So, what more does North Korea need to do to become a nuclear power? Recall, we dropped our first atomic bombs from aircraft — and today many other delivery means could be used. Tom Clancy could think of ways beyond those used in his thriller novels.

The “happy-face” folks, who say we still have time, argue that North Korea still has to develop reentry vehicles to house their nuclear weapons on one of their many long range ballistic missiles and prove that they can penetrate into the earth’s atmosphere before detonating. But didn’t North Korea do that on their July 4th test that reportedly reentered the atmosphere after descending under gravitational forces from an altitude of about 1500 miles? Seems pretty convincing to me.

And what about that reentry vehicle?

Some suggest the July 4th tested reentry vehicle involved a shroud that could have under it multiple warheads — or decoys and other countermeasures to confuse or overwhelm our ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems. Click herefor Alex Lockie’s AOL Business Insider article entitled “A tiny detail from North Korea’s missile launch points to an even more dangerous threat,” which gives his bottom line.

And click here for Bill Gertz’s Washington Times article that suggests “North Korea’s Warhead Design” was copied from one used by Pakistan. Darn that “cacophony of proliferation,” especially the legacy of the network pioneered by A.Q Kahn! (Note again: the A.Q. Kahn network also includes North Korea’s ally, Iran.) And click here for indications that network may be involving Russia and China more at U.S. expense these days.

All in all, a pretty impressive test it seems to me, but one that should not have been unexpected.

And that is assuming North Korea actually wants to reenter the atmosphere before detonating one of its nuclear weapons.

What if North Korea wants to detonate above the atmosphere to produce an EMP attack on the United States — actually an existential threat? Why couldn’t North Korea use a version of the ballistic missiles used in 2012 and 2016 to put satellites into orbit? (For the record, using a space launcher booster as a key component to North Korea’s first ICBM would not be without precedent — e.g., that was the progression path for Russia and China.)

Moreover, North Korea’s satellites orbited first over the South Polar region to approach the United States from its mostly undefended South and could carry and detonate one of its nuclear weapons over the United States to produce an EMP that could return American to an eighteenth century existence like North Korea’s today. No reentry vehicle needed.

By the way, the July 4th launch from a Chinese mobile launcher could be used to conduct this kind of orbital attack with a payload that weighs less than the reentry vehicle and weapon to penetrate the atmosphere.

Click here for my June 13th discussion of these currently existing threats — and here for my related Wall Street Journal OpEd. Click here for links to my previous messages on using a satellite to deliver nuclear weapons, which was called a fractional orbital bombardment system (FOBS) when first developed by the Soviet Union in the 1960s.
What’s new, Pussycat? Really???

The general public definitely finally got an undeniable wake-up call, but it should not have been a surprise. As often has been the case in the past, our intelligence community and policy makers misjudged the maturation timing of the threat.

Oh, I forgot to mention other ways that North Korea (or its surrogates) could deliver nuclear weapons, including by smuggling them into the United States or putting them on missiles to be launched from vessels off our coasts — especially off our undefended coast around the Gulf of Mexico. Various Congressional Commissions have warned about this possibility since the late 1990s, but the Pentagon has not defended against it in any apparent way.

Build Needed Defenses Now!

For my money, we need to move as rapidly as possible to assure we have effective ballistic missile defense (BMD) systems against this now acknowledged existing threat. And pray that we haven’t procrastinated too long already.

Most of today’s BMD debate regarding defending against North Korean missiles is over how many Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) sites should be deployed in South Korea — and deploying a U.S. east coast homeland defense site.

But while THAAD will be helpful in defending South Korea, it will not provide effective defenses for more distant locations.

Numerous Aegis ships are now in the vicinity of the Korean peninsula, and those with BMD capabilities can be much more effective in defending South Korea and more distant locations, including Guam, Hawaii and even the United States if they are sufficiently prepared with trained and ready crews to do so — and supported by an effective sensor systems to provide track and discrimination information.

Such improvements would enable Aegis BMD ships normally operating along the Eastern Seaboard to defend against ICBMs from North Korea and/or Iran— and sooner and for much less expense than building an East Coast Homeland Defense site. Aegis Ashore sites are also a possibility that should be considered for this mission.

Accordingly, President Trump should charge the Pentagon powers that be to make Aegis BMD “all it can be” to borrow a U.S. Army slogan. This would be entirely consistent with his campaign commitment in Philadelphia:
“We propose to rebuild the key tools of missile defense, starting with the Navy cruisers that are the foundation of our missile defense capabilities in Europe, Asia and the Middle East. As we expand our Navy toward the goal of 350 ships, we will also procure additional modern destroyers that are designed to handle the missile defense mission in the coming years.” ~Candidate Donald Trump September 2016

Aegis Ashore sites, like that now operational in Romania and soon to be operational is Poland, could provide substantially greater defense coverage than THAAD for lower cost. While the SM-3 Block IIA interceptor will provide greater coverage than the SM-3 Block Ia and Ib interceptors, a lighter weight Kill Vehicle should be developed as soon as possible to provide even greater defended area coverage — including for the U.S. homeland. Click here for my March 28, 2017 discussion of this possibility, following Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s trip to Asia where he declared the era of “strategic patience” was over.

That message also reported that in 2008 President Bush selected the Aegis BMD system and its then brand new SM-3 Block IA interceptor, supported by needed tracking information from additional sensors, to shoot down a dying National Reconnaissance Organization (NRO) satellite to protect folks on the ground from its unspent toxic fuel. Now, nine years later, we can do much better with Aegis BMD systems on some 35 ships operating around the world (especially near the Korean peninsula) and an improved sensor network.

Finally, President Trump should direct the Pentagon to resurrect President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) vision and its focus on space based defenses, especially the Brilliant Pebbles “space-based interceptor” program that was cancelled in early 1993 as then Defense Secretary Les Aspin boasted he “took the stars out of Star Wars.

That reorientation also should inform the coming debate on the separate U.S. Space Corps proposed by the House Armed Services Committee, to manage the cradle-to-grave military space acquisition and operations—a new, sixth branch of U.S. armed forces, the first since the U.S. Air Force was formed in 1947.