Another North Korean Missile Launch: How to Prepare for Realistic Strategic Deterrence?


by Ed Timperlake

Current realities show the pressure of global dynamics, not wishful thinking, upon defense policies.  As the North Koreans prepare to launch yet another missile, the U.S. and the Japanese are deploying forces to monitor and to defend if necessary.

For what is the difference between a test and a strike when dealing with such a secretive regime?  You don’t want the day after to be the data point.

What are the US and Japanese forces doing to prepare?  The Japanese are deploying their F-15s along with Aegis, both Japanese and American.  The F-15s can provide air cover, and air defense but really little else when it comes to countering the missile threat.

The Defense Ministry has decided to send F-15 fighters to guard Aegis destroyers to be deployed in preparation for the scheduled launch of a North Korean missile, government sources have said.

The ministry is expected to deploy the state-of-the-art Aegis ships to the East China Sea and two other locations to monitor the launch.

The F-15s are necessary as Russian or Chinese intelligence-gathering aircraft may come extremely close to the Maritime Self-Defense Force vessels, the sources said Thursday.

The F-15s will be deployed under a provision prescribed in the Self-Defense Forces Law’s Article 95, the sources said. The provision stipulates that the SDF can use weapons, aircraft and other equipment to defend their planes, ships and other equipment.

This will be the first application of the provision.

The ministry will deploy three Aegis destroyers–two in the East China Sea and one in the Sea of Japan–to prepare for the launch.

When an Aegis destroyer detects and tracks a missile, it has to concentrate its radar systems on the missile. This will severely limit the crews’ awareness of the surrounding area and make the ship largely defenseless. (The graphic below is from the same source and is credited to that source).

But a better way to deal with this strategic threat is on the way and suggested when the Japanese announced their acquisition of F-35s. I have already laid out in an accompanying piece the nature of the F-35 as a flying sensor fusion engine.  In this piece, I will discuss the impact of this capability fleetwide and integrated with US and allied forces to shape new strategic choices.

And it is very clear that new capabilities are necessary given the strategic inflection point, which the US faces.

The US faces a rapidly changing strategic situation, in which the forces relied upon to fight land wars are being rapidly outpaced to deter threats, which are not land-centric at all.  The global power projection challenges coupled with a global missile and nuclear threat perspective returns the US to older realities, but in dramatically changed settings and times.

The first data point, which highlights the change, is the need to re-focus upon missile defense as part of the overall force structure.  But will the US do so?  Recently, President Obama’s made an open mike gaff which reflected his strategic perspective and suggested perhaps not.

The comments, made at a global security summit in South Korea on Monday, came as the two leaders thought their microphones had been turned off before addressing reporters.

As he was leaning toward Medvedev in Seoul on Monday, Obama was overheard asking for time, “particularly with missile defense”, until he is in a better position politically to resolve such issues.

The outgoing Russian leader confirmed that he understood his American counterpart’s calls for “space”.

“This is my last election … After my election I have more flexibility,” the American president said, in a statement that seemed to infer confidence that he would win a second four-year term in the fall.

“I will transmit this information to Vladimir,” Medvedev said of Vladimir Putin, the current prime minister and president-elect of the Russian federation. (Reuters, March 27, 2012).

The second data point is that strategic competitors of the United States might have at least one thing in common – to undercut “US hegemony.”  Reset or not, the Russians are increasingly relying on their nuclear arsenal and the PRC as well.’s-nuclear-reset/

“China, Russia to hold naval drills,”   J Michael Cole Jane’s Defence Weekly, Correspondent March 29, 2012

The Chinese and Russian navies will conduct joint exercises in April and May, China’s defence ministry announced in a regular press briefing on 29 March.

Military spokesman Yang Yujun did not specify the size of the exercises, which are to be held in the Sea of Japan and the Yellow Sea, but said the drills would be based on arrangements made between People’s Liberation Army Chief of General Staff Chen Bingde and his Russian counterpart, First Deputy Defence Minister and Chief of General Staff of the Russian Armed Forces Nikolai Makarov, during Chen’s visit to Moscow on 4 August 2011.  Yang added that the two sides hoped the exercise would deepen the Sino-Russian strategic partnership.

And then add this data point as well. PRC strategic messaging is seeking to position itself into enhanced deterrence via PR means. The PLA announcing IRBM and ICBM maneuvering warheads to kill USN Fleet is a Denial and Deception (D&D) myth to get USN to shadow box against hyped-up threats. Some in the US Naval War College have fallen for this hook line and sinker.

The PLA took a page from the US Cold War strategy of President Reagan and his announcement of “Star Wars” — Vice Admiral Yoji Koda Japanese Navy (ret) made this insightful point at a Capital Hill conference recently. The PLA has not tested a single maneuvering IRBM or ICBM warhead let alone linked anything with a possible Pacific ISR validated and tested sensor shooter system that can find, fix and attack the USN and allied ships and subs-conventionally. Hypersonic Cruise Missiles are much bigger near term threat technology.

A Strategic Inflection Point

What all of this adds up to is a strategic inflection point. China will soon be forcing the US back into a “Cold War” deterrence posture.

The vacation from a realistic threat and resulting American concern over global nuclear war is over.  China may have secretly constructed up to 30,000 miles of underground tunnels, even if it is half that number, it is a very serious development.

The facts are beginning to be made known.  “The Underground Great Wall” a Georgetown University research effort identifies the high probability of significantly more mobile PLA 2nd Artillery ICBMs then previously thought. A very smart Professor at Georgetown and his “ Great Underground Wall” study project is now being made public.

Arms control experts (a proven useless occupation against PRC) push back will be huge. But the truth is the truth.  Soon America and our allies will need a to develop countermeasures and technology against this previously unknown PLA ICBM threat.

Now, the threat is not only from previously known fixed sites, but mobile, truck and rail launchers can be hidden underground. The PLAN is also rapidly developing  SSBN “Boomers” as well..

The F-35 in the Equation

Surging the F-35 can address this strategic nightmare soon to be made very real.

As discussed in my earlier piece (The F-35 as a “Flying Sensor Fusion Engine”: Positioning the Fleet for “Tron” Warfare), the 35 A, B &C is an AA/AG kinetic kill platform, and with “no platform fights alone” the additional cockpit “tron” sensor  capabilities can network with land and sea based AMB systems.“flying-sensor-fusion-engine”-positioning-the-fleet-for-“tron”-warfare/

Allied F-35s will always be “forward deployed” and by operating in the global commons they will have the potential of being strategic assets from an American point of view.  This means, as we have argued earlier, that USAF and Allies now must have significant F-35As ready as soon as possible, especially in South Korea and Japan. This will provide a unique and revolutionary “honeycomb” sensor grid FORWARD DEPLOYED in the Pacific.

Additionally, the F-35B deployed aboard USN ships adds to the forward deployed strategic presence.  VSTOL basing flexibility makes F-35B a very survivable sea mobile state-of-the art aircraft. For the first time in history VSTOL aircraft is both state-of-the-art in the AA and AG mode, combined with an EW C5ISR-D capability.

This distributed at sea basing flexibility allows airborne sensor presence much closer to launch platforms-especially standing vigil over suspected PLAN SSBN patrol areas. Northern Edge, an exercise in Alaska proved, today’s F-35 system, flying in a test bed aircraft could map the ocean surface over a 50,000 mile grid. The instant a sub launched  missile (cruise or ICBM) breaks into flight an F-35 can determine at the speed of light the launch point.

Shaping the Aegis/SM-3 F-35 combination to ensure an ability to kill on launch is a key element for credible deterrence.

  • The PLA has demonstrated a ground launched kill shot against a satellite, which was the first practice shot in a Space War.
  • The US demonstrated a much more advanced satellite kill shot in our first Space War attempt. A “Bravo Zulu” flag hoist meaning job well done to USN.  A perfect  “Boola-Boola! ” meaning a successful hit was made firing from the high seas in splashing a satellite, by the USS Lake Erie in a textbook perfect AEGIS /SM-3 shot.
  • The Aegis/SM-3 is only Missile Defense asset we can currently immediately deploy as a worldwide Strategic Deterrent ABM system. Like the AEGIS ships standing ready in response to the huffing and puffing of a North Korean launch a fleet of US and Allied ships will be needed as a demonstration of capable resolve  as the warfighing consequences “Great Underground Wall” is made public.
  • An essential key to successful deterrence and combat if necessary is instantaneous detection recognition and accurate location of a launch. The identification of a threat by C5ISR systems is critical. A significant amount of US technology and money has been focused on this deterrence/combat problem for over five decades.

The F-35 linked to AEGIS/SM-3 is a revolutionary addition to American and Allied Deterrence and warfighting capability-both in Conventional War and Strategic War. Instead of the famous statement-“In times of crisis where are the Carriers,” it will change as America moves up the Strategic “Def-Con” scale facing a possible nuke attack-“Where are the AEGIS ships and F-35s?”

US Deterrence planning in Japan and South Korea with the F-35A will create a launch warning distributed land based C5ISR-D platform. In times of crisis, both against PRC and/or North Korea the aircraft will be invaluable as an airborne distributed fleet of strategic warning assets backed up by shooters such as the F-22, B-2s, and SSGNs and BMD systems such as AEGIS ships with improved SM-3.

No US Iron Dome is possible BUT America needs a credible response to the Chinese ICBM build up, and also in response against North Korea and Iran IRBMs.

Remember the US and Allied Cold War model of concern—Strategic Air Command , and Tactical Air Command  BUT also the now long gone-Air Defense Command (ADC)  against Soviet Bombers with a 2000+ air order of battle aircraft, along with our arctic Defense Early Warning radar the  “DEW line.”

Afloat, the F-35B is survivable as a mobile passive sensor with ranging and targeting information unlike anything ever built.

F-35A &Bs are better than satellites because PLA response and American counter response in emerging Pacific Air/Sea Battle “space war” maybe killing everything overhead.


The PLA reach into the Pacific and beyond is real.  The Russian commitment to nuclear weapons is solid and expanding.  Nuclear weapons are in the hands of North Koreans and soon possibly the Iranians.

This high-end threat can be met with a combination of capabilities which nicely dovetail with an ability to deal with the full spectrum of threats.  The F-35 as a multi-service and multi-national fleet allows for this possibility.

So which is more strategically costly: buying a global F-35 fleet and enabling it to work with systems like Aegis/SM-3 or being on the short end of the stick in constantly trying  press a reset button without a credible deterrent capability?

Credit for Featured Image of Japanese F-35: