National Security & Defense

Boost-Phase Intercept Is Still the Best Defense against the North Korean Nuclear Threat

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the long-range strategic ballistic rocket (Reuters/Korean Central News Agency)
We have the technology to protect our regional allies and ourselves from a North Korean missile strike without upsetting China. We should deploy it.

Newly elected South Korean president Moon Jae-in made it official last week: His government will delay deployment of the US-built Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system (THAAD) for two years. THAAD remains South Korea’s only viable defense against a surprise missile attack by its rogue neighbor to the North. But China — which has expressed concerns that THAAD might be turned on to intercept its missiles if it decides to attack South Korea, and that the system’s highly advanced radar could be used to peer into PRC airspace — put the diplomatic and economic screws to the leftist Moon until he obligingly and predictably caved.

The excuse given is that the South Korean government needs to do an “environmental impact assessment” of THAAD. “We are not saying the two [THAAD] launchers and other equipment that have already been deployed should be withdrawn. But those that have yet to be deployed will have to wait,” an official with the presidential office told Korean media. No one expects that promise to be kept. Beijing will not be happy until every trace of THAAD is gone from South Korean soil and the rift that suspension of deployment has caused between Washington and Seoul is permanent.

What this means is that the one remaining option for effective ballistic-missile defense against the North Korean threat is now, and always has been, the plan I previewed here in late March: a boost-phase-intercept system using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) equipped with conventional interceptor missiles.

Anti-missile systems such as THAAD, AEGIS, and Patriot only shoot down a missile as it re-enters the atmosphere toward the end of its flight, narrowing the margin for error and increasing the chances of collateral damage. Destroying the missile in its earlier, “boost” phase, while it’s still struggling to escape the atmosphere, has the advantage of halting the missile during the slowest, hottest phase of its launch, when it can most easily be detected by infra-red sensors. It is also the best way to ensure that the fallout from the destroyed missile lands in North Korea or the Sea of Japan, rather than in a Japanese city (if Japan is the target) or a U.S. military base in the region (if our forces are the target).

Our Missile Defense Agency is currently working on a boost-phase-intercept system using unmanned aerial vehicles equipped with high-energy lasers — but that plan is years away, since the lasers it would need to succeed don’t yet exist. That said, a UAV stationed at an altitude of 50,000–55,000 feet, 350 miles outside North Korean air space, carrying infra-red sensors and a conventional high-speed interceptor missile of 500 lbs. would still have the range, firepower, and time needed to bring down even a large North Korean ICBM in its boost phase. The technology needed to build and deploy such a UAV already exists, and it carries the added advantage of placating Beijing, because it would be stationed too far away to track or shoot down missiles fired from China.

Kim Jong-Un’s missile program is getting increasingly dangerous, with ever-greater accuracy and longer range. Kim already has nuclear-capable missiles that could hit Japan, and experts agree that it’s only a matter of time before he develops the technology to hit the U.S. mainland. A BPI system could be deployed in two years (or less, in a pinch) and would protect both Japan and the United States from a rogue attack.

As for South Korea, the real threat from the North has always been the enormous arsenal of 15,000 artillery pieces it has aimed across the 38th parallel, which would reduce Seoul to rubble in the event of war. But that’s all the more reason why South Korea should support the deployment of a BPI system. Such a system would not protect South Korea itself in the event that a missile was fired at Seoul from outside North Korean airspace, but it could prevent a rogue launch on Japan or the U.S. with the potential to trigger a conflict that devastates the peninsula.

READ MORE:

Why North Korea’s Nuclear and Missile Programs Are Far More Dangerous Than They Look

Trump Should Press China on its Support of North Korea

SLIDESHOW: North Korea’s Military on Parade

Most Popular

World

Massive Explosions Devastate Beirut

A series of massive explosions detonated in Beirut on Tuesday, with footage showing a mushroom cloud and shockwave emanating from the city port. [embed]https://twitter.com/air_intel/status/1290676373485490177[/embed] It is still unclear what caused the explosions. Lebanese security forces claimed the ... Read More
World

Massive Explosions Devastate Beirut

A series of massive explosions detonated in Beirut on Tuesday, with footage showing a mushroom cloud and shockwave emanating from the city port. [embed]https://twitter.com/air_intel/status/1290676373485490177[/embed] It is still unclear what caused the explosions. Lebanese security forces claimed the ... Read More

What or Who Decides This Election?

We know where to watch in the next few weeks but have no real idea what we will be watching. Yet pundits, the media, and the Left seem giddy that their polls show a Trump slump, as if they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing from 2016. But in truth, the news cycle over the next three months may well favor ... Read More

What or Who Decides This Election?

We know where to watch in the next few weeks but have no real idea what we will be watching. Yet pundits, the media, and the Left seem giddy that their polls show a Trump slump, as if they have learned nothing and forgotten nothing from 2016. But in truth, the news cycle over the next three months may well favor ... Read More
Film & TV

Laughing at Beyoncé’s Absolute Monarchy

Back in the Nineties, when hip-hop zealots questioned the intelligence of Beyoncé songs like Destiny’s Child’s careerist anthem “Survivor” and the sex-as-junk-food hit “Bootylicious,” there was little regard for the female agency that she now channels into an intersectional act, trading on gender and ... Read More
Film & TV

Laughing at Beyoncé’s Absolute Monarchy

Back in the Nineties, when hip-hop zealots questioned the intelligence of Beyoncé songs like Destiny’s Child’s careerist anthem “Survivor” and the sex-as-junk-food hit “Bootylicious,” there was little regard for the female agency that she now channels into an intersectional act, trading on gender and ... Read More
Culture

Monsters Galore

Vanity Fair, that peerless assessor of all things political, has bravely come out with the shocking opinion that the movies, TV, and our much-vaunted national media-industrial complex don’t hate right-wing women as much as they ought to, leading to the unjust and the always unhappy conclusion that people such ... Read More
Culture

Monsters Galore

Vanity Fair, that peerless assessor of all things political, has bravely come out with the shocking opinion that the movies, TV, and our much-vaunted national media-industrial complex don’t hate right-wing women as much as they ought to, leading to the unjust and the always unhappy conclusion that people such ... Read More
Elections

The Burning Times

Welcome to The Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about politics, language, culture, pedantry, partisan pyromania, and suchlike. The Right loves a factional brawl, and the past week brought a pentagonic crossfire between Peggy Noonan, Mona Charen, Charlie Sykes, Ramesh Ponnuru, and David French, five right-leaning ... Read More
Elections

The Burning Times

Welcome to The Tuesday, a weekly newsletter about politics, language, culture, pedantry, partisan pyromania, and suchlike. The Right loves a factional brawl, and the past week brought a pentagonic crossfire between Peggy Noonan, Mona Charen, Charlie Sykes, Ramesh Ponnuru, and David French, five right-leaning ... Read More

What He Saw at the Riots

Michael Tracey is an independent, left-leaning journalist who is a thorn in the side of the progressive consensus that is set on Twitter. He has been driving around the country to the sites of riots and protests. Because his work may be of some interest to NR readers, I thought I’d interview him. Full ... Read More

What He Saw at the Riots

Michael Tracey is an independent, left-leaning journalist who is a thorn in the side of the progressive consensus that is set on Twitter. He has been driving around the country to the sites of riots and protests. Because his work may be of some interest to NR readers, I thought I’d interview him. Full ... Read More