On Tuesday, US President Donald Trump threatened to “totally destroy” North Korea if Pyongyang does not stop its nuclear and missile tests. In fact, the US missile defense system is incapable of shooting down North Korean missiles, according to American expert on nuclear weapons Joe Cirincione.
Neither the US nor Japan could have intercepted the missile launched by North Korea last week because “none of the theater ballistic missile defense weapons in existence” could hit a target at such an altitude, Cirincione wrote in a piece for Defense One.
On September 15, South Korea and Japan said that North Korea fired the Hwasong-12 ballistic missile. It reached an altitude of 770 kilometers and traveled 3,700 kilometers before falling into the Pacific Ocean, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.
“It is hundreds of kilometers too high for the Aegis interceptors deployed on Navy ships off Japan. Even higher for the THAAD systems in South Korea and Guam. Way too high for the Patriot systems in Japan, which engage largely within the atmosphere,” Cirincione pointed out.
All of the three missile defense systems are designed to intercept a missile in the post-midcourse or terminal phase. In theory, an attempt could be made to intercept a missile just after the launch. However, according to the expert, it would be quite unrealistic.
“There is almost no chance of hitting a North Korean missile on its way up unless an Aegis ship was deployed very close to the launch point, perhaps in North Korean waters. Even then, it would have to chase the missile, a race it is unlikely to win. In the only one or two minutes of warning time any system would have, the probability of a successful engagement drops close to zero,” the article read.
As for the continental part of the US, there are the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense(GMD) interceptors deployed in Alaska and California. This system is designed to hit targets in midflight, including in space. But the GMD is not fully operational yet and has destroyed only 50 percent of targets during tests. It is hard to predict how the system would operate under realistic conditions, including against a missile using countermeasures.
“We will have no choice than to totally destroy North Korea,” Trump said in his first speech at the UN General Assembly.
Trump said that Pyongyang’s “reckless pursuit of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles threatens the entire world with the unthinkable loss of human life.” The US president stressed that “denuclearization is its only acceptable future” for North Korea.
The American leader went on by calling on United Nations member states to join forces to isolate the Kim regime until it ceases its “hostile” behavior.