U.S. Ground Based Defense Against North Korean Missiles ‘Is Garbage’

By James Burke

Experts have cast serious doubts over America’s ground based defense capabilities to defend mainland U.S. against North Korea’s new Hwasong-15 intercontinental ballistic missile.

Several experts told the National Interest that the U.S.’sground-basedd midcourse defense (GMD) system is ill prepared to tackle North Korea’s new missile.

“The system is garbage,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey.

“It is intended to deal with a threat like this, but the test record stinks and the payload is roomy enough that we need to think worry about countermeasures,” Lewis said.

Lewis and others spoke with the National Interest after North Korea launched the Hwasong-15 on Nov. 29. The missile reached an altitude of 2,800 and came down 130 miles off the coast of Japan.

Based on North Korean released images of the Hwasong-15, experts say it is capable of delivering a nuclear weapon anywhere in the U.S. The new missile could only be several tests away from being fully capable of being used in a wartime scenario.

Kingston Reif, director for disarmament and threat-reduction policy at the Arms Control Association, said the new missile “is more than large enough to carry decoys/countermeasures” that would put pressure on the GMD.

Reif explained that the Defense of Department said the GMD system has a ‘demonstrated capability’ to defend against a small number of simple ICBM threats that also employ ‘simple countermeasures.’

“It’s not clear how DoD defines ‘simple countermeasures,'” he said.

“We do know that the system has never been tested against ‘complex countermeasures,’ which DoD defines as ‘Use of target dynamics and penetration aids,’” Reif said.

“Are such countermeasures beyond the capability of North Korea to develop? I highly doubt it.”

Reif said test results have not been promising.

“Overall, flight intercept testing of the system has not demonstrated that GMD is capable of reliably defen[ding] the U.S. homeland against even a limited threat,” Reif said.

Missile expert Vipin Narang, an associate professor of political science at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said policymakers can’t rely on the GMD to shield U.S. cities from a North Korean missile attack.

“I wouldn’t bet New York on GMD working,” said Narang.

Arms-control expert and president of the Ploughshares Fund Joseph Cirincione said the Hwasong-15 would most like overwhelm U.S. efforts to stop it in an attack.

“This missile potentially has enough throw weight to carry multiple warheads plus decoys, chaff, jammers and other countermeasures to defeat any known missile defense system,” said Cirincione.

“It could overwhelm, fool and blind the radars, sensors and kill vehicles. You cannot stop this thing.”

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