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North Korea Fallout
Preparing for a North Korean Missile Test

It looks increasingly likely that North Korea will test a long-range missile in the coming days, and the possibility sparked a trilateral conversation today between Tokyo, Seoul, and Washington. The Japan Times reports:

Defense officials from Japan, the United States and South Korea held a video conference Friday to discuss the planned North Korean satellite launch they widely believe will be a cover for a ballistic missile test.

According to the Defense Ministry, working-level officials from the three allies shared information on the situation and agreed to coordinate their response to the provocative test, which will violate U.N. sanctions. They also vowed to cooperate with the international community in dealing with the launch.

No one knows whether the Norks can successfully launch the missile or not—there’s a good chance, based on recent experience, that even Pyongyang may not be sure. But Japanese airlines have been using alternate flight paths, and Tokyo has indicated that it may attempt to shoot down the projectile with its missile defense system.

One country is notably, if unsurprisingly, excluded from the preparations: China. Particularly after last month’s nuclear test, Seoul and Tokyo have made no secret of their displeasure with Beijing’s inability or (many suspect) unwillingness to control North Korea. China has been trying at least to appear to pressure North Korea, sending a diplomat to the Hermit Kingdom and issuing a stern warning. But it’s clear that Japan and South Korea don’t trust Beijing, and they’ve turned to Washington for assistance.

North Korea is not helping Chinese President Xi Jinping’s efforts to warm relations with these neighbors.

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  • CapitalHawk

    I think it is clear the Chinese *can’t* control the Norks. Why would China want the Norks to prod the South Koreans and Japanese to increase their defense budgets? Guns that can shoot at the Norks can shoot at the Chinese too.

  • Jim__L

    Quick astrodynamics lesson — if you can launch a satellite bigger than a CubeSat, you can put a nuke down most places on Earth.

    What was that argument against ballistic missile defense again? Oh yeah, “It couldn’t stop Russian nukes getting through if they launched them all at once”… looks like that’s not our actual mission here. Just stop one Nork nuke — which missile defense could do.

    Unless you’re saying that Seattle is expendable. Or San Francisco. Or LA. Or Denver. (You get the idea).

    • f1b0nacc1

      An ICBM would need an effective payload of about 1 metric ton (warhead, guidance package, entry structure and shielding, etc.) in order to be useful. This assumes, of course, that the Norks have a working bomb that can fit in that entry structure, as it is about geometry as well as mass. Even if you have all of that working, you still have to get a bomb robust enough to survive the stresses of launch and reentry, as well as a guidance system that can get the bomb down somewhere within the CEP of a worthwhile target while staying inside the bomb’s kill zone. None of this is impossible, but none of it is trivial either, and all of it is a *Lot* harder than just lofting a cubesat into orbit.

      Quick history lesson – during WWII the Germans built the V-2, the worlds first ballistic missile. It was impressive in its own way, but ultimately it was a huge waste of resources. For the cost (scarce resources, manpower, technical expertise, etc.) required to launch a single low-quality explosive warhead, the Germans could have been numerous jet aircraft which might have actually helped their war effort. Obviously nuclear weapons change this calculus somewhat, but given the problems with fitting them into a missile (and the reliability of that missile once the bomb is in place), that change isn’t as much as you might think.

      • Jim__L

        The closest I came to working on nukes was about twenty years ago when some folks were looking to hire me to work on attitude control thrusters for a MIRV platform. (My career took me in a different direction.) They didn’t go into great detail on the warheads, but I got the impression that they were significantly smaller than a ton each.

        Eh, maybe I’m wrong. It’s been a while.

        • f1b0nacc1

          Average warhead size is about 500kg for the bomb itself, it is the ‘frills and extras’ (as we used to say) that adds to the mass budget.

          Attitude control thrusters? I worked with guidance systems…we might have had some of the same connections (grin)…. How happy I am that all that work never was put to use!

    • f1b0nacc1

      Oh, as a minor point I consider San Francisco, LA, and Seattle all entirely expendable

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