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How do you solve a problem like Korea?
Patriot Missiles Aren’t Able to Shoot Down North Korean Missiles
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  • Fat_Man

    The Israelis have a couple of missile interception systems under development. Maybe the SoKos should be talking to them.

    BTW, I do not see why an interceptor needs to reach a speed related to the missiles speed. The ground will intercept the missile even though the ground’s velocity is 0.0 m/s.

    Further the numbers in that squib made me credulous. An altitude of 1413.6 km (878 mi) for a missile strikes me as way too high to be useful. The time required for it to return to earth would make it a sitting duck for interceptors no matter what its terminal velocity is.

    • f1b0nacc1

      From what I understand (and I suspect that my sources on this are quite good), the article is off by about a factor of 3 in terms of the maximum altitude reached, and way, way off in terms of speed. While the missile in question demonstrated a range of about 400 km, it was likely that it could have done 3-4 times that, which would have made it a significant regional menace.

      The problem with the Patriot is that its intercept envelop for long range missiles is simply far to small, and a reasonably fast missile would not be in the envelop for long enough to give it a reasonable chance of making a kill. Yes, even a very slow missile can make a kill, the probabilities of slow missiles having a large enough intercept envelop is just too low. For short/medium range targets, this is viable, but longer ranged targets tend to be moving much faster, and that makes the intercept more problematic.

      The ROK did indeed talk to the Israelis about Iron Dome to deal with some of their short-ranged threats, but the number of interceptors proved to be prohibitive. The Norks aren’t intending to launch a sustained campaign with their SSMs, it is more an ‘all at once’ sort of thing, which Iron Dome wouldn’t work well against. Also, given the extremely high density of the Nork target areas in the ROK (Seoul and other urban areas), the primary advantage of Iron Dome (the ability to determine what incoming missiles are actually going to hit something meaningful) is degraded. The ROK is still talking to the Israelis regarding David’s sling and Arrow (notably Arrow 2, which the Israelis might have available as surplus very soon as they are now deploying Arrow 3), but my understanding is that technology transfer issues are a bit of a problem.

      As a final note, the real problem here isn’t the missile technology (the ROK has some fine technology of their own available, and they are quite capable of building something in a reasonably acceptable timeframe), but rather the sensor technology for target acquisition, specifically the X-band radars that these systems require. The Israeli Green Pine might be useful for their needs, but the Magnificent Pine would be better, and that isn’t likely to come cheaply. This, by the way, is the real bone of contention with the Chinese, as they see radars of that class as useful fire-control systems not just for regional ABMs, but for boost-phase intercepts against longer-ranged systems.

      • Frank Natoli

        given the extremely high density of the Nork target areas in the ROK (Seoul and other urban areas), the primary advantage of Iron Dome (the ability to determine what incoming missiles are actually going to hit something meaningful) is degraded
        Why is that? Intuitively, the denser the area you need to protect, the better you can cluster your interceptors, the easier it is to protect.

        • f1b0nacc1

          The problem is that Iron Dome’s ‘secret sauce’ (i.e. its biggest advantage) is its ability to discriminate against incoming targets that are likely to hit something significant (i.e. a populated area vs. let’s say an empty patch of ground), so it can ‘ignore’ a large number of incoming missiles. In Israel, this has worked out to be about 90% of all incoming targets, which makes the system highly resistant to saturation. In the case of Seoul, for instance, the percentage of ’empty space’ is likely to be less than about 10-15%, which would tend to degrade the advantage of the Iron Dome system, and thus render it more vulnerable to saturation.

          In addition, the Norks have structured their forces (particularly their SSMs) for a massive first salvo, rather than a sustained campaign. This makes sense for them (the US and ROK air forces are likely to reduce most of the launching sites to rubble VERY quickly, so they won’t get more than 1-2 shots), but once again, it vastly complicates the problems that systems like Iron Dome would face.

          • Frank Natoli

            Are you suggesting that the square miles centered around Seoul are so much larger than the square miles centered around Tel Aviv that a Seoul Iron Dome solution would require more interceptors than the South Koreans can afford?
            Regarding “massive first salvo”, that would be an ultimately suicidal action. Is that a consideration?

          • f1b0nacc1

            Seoul is a VERY large city (much larger than Tel-Aviv, for instance), but more to the point it is extremely densely populated, so there are few (not none, but few) ’empty zones’ where an off-target missile might land and do little or no damage. Contrast this to the target zone in Israel, where most of the incoming missiles (really unguided rockets) are likely to land in open fields, etc. Iron Dome was designed to determine the impact point of incoming threats, then ignore those that weren’t going to hit something important. For Israel, that works, for the ROK, it isn’t likely to be as effective.

            As for the opening salvo, of course it is likely to be suicidal, it has been understood that it (the salvo) is hoped to be a threat to deter the US/ROK (or more likely blackmail them) rather than be a useful adjunct to a sustained attack. Think of it as a huge conventional nuke…

          • Frank Natoli

            Yes, I am personally familiar with Seoul. It is not unlike NYC, in having densely populated suburbs that imperceptibly blend with the city itself. Now I understand that Iron Dome is predicated on a substantial fraction of incoming to be unguided/misguided and therefore can be disregarded, whereas all Nork incoming is likely to be on target.
            Just speculating, but Kim Jong-un being a Communist, and thus believing that this life is the only life he will ever know, will do everything in his power to maintain his life, and a massive missile attack on the South is unlikely to perpetuate that. As much as he’d love to reduce the South to ashes, he loves himself more.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The biggest difference between Seoul and NYC is the smell….(grin)…
            Regarding Kim Jong-un, while I agree with you that he is likely to put his own survival first and foremost, he must also maintain a credible deterrent in order to avoid simply been removed, and up until now that has been the huge barrage of missiles, artillery, etc. that the Norks have waiting for the ROK. While I agree that this would be suicidal, we might also remember that a nuclear ‘wargasm’ between the US and the USSR would have also been suicidal, but both sides worked aggressively to prepare for it. Such is the paradox of deterrence. Remember, for better or for worse it is likely that Kim believes that his missile strike option is something that has been useful in blackmailing the West, and possibly even deterring it as well. Keep in mind that these folks live in a bubble where dissenters are executed in grim and terrible ways (death by ack-ack, for instance), so they likely have a very different sense of reality than we do…

      • Fat_Man

        Iron dome is only one Israeli system. Others projects are named Arrow and David’s Sling. There may be yet others, I just haven’t heard of them. Israel has tremendous technical capibilities and neighbors who are even more insanely hostile than SoKo has.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Please note that I did mention both David’s Sling and Arrow (though Arrow is no longer in use, and Arrow 2 is being replaced by Arrow 3) in the third paragraph of my comment..

  • Jim__L

    DoD used to work on this in Silicon Valley.

    Then they stopped.

    • f1b0nacc1

      Oh they still do…

  • WigWag

    Donald Trump is right; the idea that South Korea can continue to shelter under the American nuclear umbrella is increasingly far-fetched. It’s time for South Korea (and Japan) to develop their own nuclear deterrents.

    • f1b0nacc1

      A simple response to the Chinese actions in the SCS would be to formally announce that the United States would no longer object to the ROK, Japan and Taiwan (as well as other regional powers such as Malaysia, Australia, and Vietnam) acquiring their own nuclear deterrents, and would consider providing them relevant technologies on a purchase basis. We might even ‘sweeten’ the pot by offering command/control systems at a very attractive discount.

      This would certainly give the Chinese a great deal to think about, and would be extremely difficult for them to counter.

      • CapitalHawk

        Given that China is a “face” culture, that is a threat best made privately. Of course, our current president would never follow through given his very strong stance against nukes in general (yes, notwithstanding the fact his administration has pushed through a major upgrade of US nuke capability).

        • f1b0nacc1

          I absolutely agree, and it is a threat that should only be made if the Chinese are reluctant to see reason in the light of other developments. With that said, however, it is better to undertake such an action now, rather than after they have ‘shamed’ us….

          • CapitalHawk

            We generally agree, but I think the action should wait until January 21, 2017. Whether it is Hillary or Donald, our next president is guaranteed to have more spine than the current one.

          • f1b0nacc1

            There are jellyfish in the depths of the Pacific ocean with more spine than the current resident of the White House, but your point is well taken…

          • Andrew Allison

            what’s with this jelleyfish discrimination? Any-and-all jelleyfish have more spine than the arrogant, narcissistic, legendary-in-his-own-mind “smartest man in the room.”

          • f1b0nacc1

            In all honesty, I hadn’t noticed….

          • Andrew Allison

            An individual commentator can choose to ignore the ranting, raving and/or impenetrably pretentious prose of other individuals. No prizes for guessing the two I’ve excised.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I tend to get a laugh from them most of the time…between the blind devotion to ‘the cause’ in one case and the pedantic puffery in the other, they are more silly than anything else.
            With that said, however, perhaps you have a point…

          • Andrew Allison

            Hmmm. Changed your mind about the need for prompt action have you [grin].The solution to the face problem is to not formally announce that we are providing Japan and South Korea with nuclear deterrence capability (Taiwan may be a step too far), but to quietly do so. The ChiComs will assuredly notice. WRT Taiwan, a simple statement that an attack on Taiwan will be considered to be an attack on the US should suffice.

          • f1b0nacc1

            I would prefer to see prompt action, but that isn’t going to happen. On the other hand, giving the Chinese an opportunity to save face isn’t a problem for me if there was some realistic hope that they would do so, which there is not (sigh)…
            As for how we would do this, simply point out that the US would no longer object to Japan and South Korea acquiring any form of national defense that they believe to be necessary, and leave it at that. The Chinese are clever enough to read between the lines, and both Japan and the ROK have more than sufficient industrial resources to build their own nukes very quickly. Let them make their own decisions, and let the Chinese exhaust their international standing arguing about it.
            As for Taiwan, I believe that they should be included in the statement immediately as they face the greatest threat. The should be informed privately that if they do not choose to avail themselves of this opportunity, that the US would not feel obligated to put its own assets at risk in the future. WRT to an attack on Taiwan being considered an attack on the US, I wouldn’t endorse such a policy, as it gives Taiwan very little incentive to improve their own defenses, and a great deal of incentive to take overly provocative steps to stir up trouble. A bit of strategic ambiguity might not be a bad idea here…

    • Frank Natoli

      Agreed. But, in the context of this article, THAAD is not a “gift” or “shelter” to the South Koreans. They WILL pay for it. What’s wrong with that? We build it. We employ engineers and production people. We make a profit. Sounds like a win-win to me.

      • f1b0nacc1

        One minor point…the ROK military is well known for having absolutely horrible counter-espionage capabilities, which means in practice that any technologies included in THAAD are likely to be compromised (or at the very least stolen) fairly quickly. Granted that this threat exists anywhere (our own counter-espionage capabilities are hardly impressive), but the ROK is a particularly vulnerable state.

        Not a deal breaker by any means, but worth thinking about.

        • Frank Natoli

          any technologies included in THAAD are likely to be compromised
          Well, there’s at least two different meanings for “technologies” in the present context.
          One, is what THAAD is capable of doing. While that is technically “classified”, I suspect the general operational capabilities are well known, only the boundary conditions are known only to the experts.
          Two, how THAAD actually does it, is the software, firmware and/or hardware itself. I would like to think, hah-hah, that software and firmware, obviously provided to the end customer in machine code only, may very well also be encrypted, so “stealing” it becomes of marginal utility. As for the hardware itself, I would hope the Norks cannot drive up with a deuce and a half and cart off a ground station.

          • f1b0nacc1

            The important parts of THAAD are: 1) the missile; 2) the sensors; and 3) the command guidance (software) for both ground and missile. Of these, by far the most important (and the most vulnerable to espionage) is (3) the command guidance software. Sadly, even if encrypted, it can be reversed engineered, and in any event, a determined foe would likely steal enough information from the maintenance and support operations to be of use.

            As for who would do the theft, I doubt that the Norks (who do have a reasonably good spy system, as I understand it) would have the ability to exploit the theft, but the Chinese certainly would.

          • Andrew Allison

            If you think that the ChiComs haven’t already stolen much, if not all, of the technology via Internet hacking, you’ve not been paying attention.

          • f1b0nacc1

            Stealing computer data (which they certainly have) is one thing, stealing operational information and day-to-day assessments, that is another.

          • Andrew Allison

            What they almost assuredly stolen is the design, which includes the threat assessment and response software. See, e.g. http://www.defenseone.com/threats/2015/09/more-questions-f-35-after-new-specs-chinas-copycat/121859/ (although in that particular case, what they got was the plans for a gold-plated POS).

          • f1b0nacc1

            Aside from my lack of respect for Defense One (remember, they are essentially run by the happy folks who run Quartz and The Wire….hardly defense experts…and the author of the article you cite is a business specialist, not a defense analyst), all they point out is that the J-31 bares a fairly close resemblance to the F-35. Given how badly flawed the F-35’s design is (a subject for a LONG article), I don’t see that as much of a coup on the part of the Chinese. There is no real evidence that the Chinese got much here other than overall high-level design which they copied without a ton of imagination.
            The Soviets could have told you all about this practice. My favorite story from their sorry era was when they were trying to build the Buran, their copy of the Shuttle. The original design was a fairly good one, but the engineers were pressured into a series of VERY bad changes based upon data that they had stolen from the US. Essentially the engineers were told ‘the Americans are doing this, so it must be right’, and thus they copied our mistakes and delayed their program indefinitely (as it turned out, forever). Copying the F-35….please….do so….

  • Frank Natoli

    Why is deploying THAAD “controversial”, whereas the Nork missle deployment not?
    Why is China objecting to THAAD, yet done nothing to prevent its client state from deploying missiles requiring THAAD?
    Why is the Korean opposition objecting to THAAD, yet offered no alternative than to simply ignoring the Nork threat?
    What’s wrong with this picture?

  • FriendlyGoat

    There is room for argument whether more countries with more nuke triggers to pull is preferable to American deterrent on a nuclear basis. As for THAAD, I tend to think the more the better. It has been China’s responsibility all along to rein in Kim. They haven’t and they know they haven’t.

  • InklingBooks

    That sounds like deliberately sloppy science by the South Korea military. A Patriot missle won’t be chasing after a North Korea missile. It’ll be heading up the same trajectory in the opposite direction. A greater speed for the Patriot would actually make the timing of interception burst more difficult.

    Also, I suspect that greater speed was for an ICBM, which actually needs it for its long, coasting ballistic trajectory. That has nothing to do with a much shorter range and slower tactical missle that would be fired at South Korea.

    We shouldn’t be holding back THAAD because of Chinese opposition. That’s merely yet-another illlustration of our weak-kneed Obama administration. We should leave them with Patriots because they’re sufficient for South Korea’s defense.

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