Kansas Progress Institute

Ad Astra Per Aspera ~ To the Stars Through Difficulties

Shoot Down a North Korean ICBM?

Posted on April 24, 2017

By David Burress

Another step toward nuclear winter.


Charles Krauthammer thinks the US can and should shoot down a Korean ICBM when it is being tested. I might or might not support that idea if we had a reliable ABM (anti-ballistic missile) capability directed at ICBMs. But we don’t. All we have is a lot of largely untested systems and a lot of talk.


Trying to shoot down an NK missile would be the first true operational test, and it would be very likely to fail publicly. That seems like a counterproductive strategy.


Even if we did have a capability, demonstrating that it actually worked would likely scare every potentially inimical nuclear power into redoubling their efforts to multiple the number of missiles they could launch. Almost any strategic ABM system proposed so far has the property that it could overcome by simply launching more missiles. Adding ABM missiles is a lot cheaper and can probably be done faster than expanding the ABM system in proportion.


After a long history of failed antimissile efforts, the Pentagon basically stopped revealing information on our true ABM capabilities and test results. The only known successful antimissile interceptions of objects in space involved hitting objects in predetermined fixed orbital paths, especially satellites. No one ever claimed that was impossible, but it isn’t much like hitting a missile that launches on an unexpected path and doesn’t want to be hit.


ICBMs have a relatively easy task: hit a fixed terrestrial target not revealed in advance at a time chosen by the attacker, and, increasingly, launched from a place chosen by the attacker and not revealed in advance. The ABM task is vastly harder: hit an object in space moving at 16,000 mph launched from an unexpected place at an unexpected time and aimed at an unexpected target.


Also countermeasures to an ABM system are relatively easy: multiple re-entry vehicles, decoys, chaff. There could also be attacks on orbital sensing systems (which are in fixed orbits). Counter-counter measures are relatively hard.

As far as I know there are no knowledgeable scientists or engineers who haven’t received ABM development money and who believe any proposed system to attack ICBMs will work in the next decade or two.

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