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Intelligent Design — Stephen Meyer Offers a Solution to North Korea Standoff

David Klinghoffer | @d_klinghoffer

North Korea

This takes us somewhat afield from biological evolution, but our colleague Stephen Meyer writing at National Review Online nevertheless offers a highly noteworthy proposal. This, if embraced at the right levels by the right people in Washington, D.C., could defuse the standoff with North Korea in relatively short order, using mostly technology we already have, and all of it on the cheap side.

The key lies in containing and destroying intercontinental ballistic missiles while they’re still in the boost phase, using kinetic energy:

[T]he United States urgently needs to develop and deploy higher altitude and space-based systems for missile defense. Arthur Herman of the Hudson Institute has taken the lead on advocating one such high-altitude system with particular promise for neutralizing the North Korean threat. Known as High Altitude Long Endurance Boost Phase Intercept (or HALE BPI), this system would offer another option besides acquiescence or a high-risk first strike against North Korean missile launchers.

As conceived by Len Caveny, the former director of science and technology at the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, the HALE BPI system would host anti-missile missiles on existing unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) that have the capacity for continuous flying for 18 to 40 hours or more (thus, the term “long endurance” in the HALE acronym). Using sophisticated radar, infrared detection, and “data fusion” technology, these missile-equipped UAVs would circle the Sea of Japan outside North Korean airspace at an altitude of 45,000 feet or more. Upon detection and verification of a missile launch from North Korea, the HALE BPI UAV’s operator on the ground would have time (perhaps a minute or more) to fire a purely kinetic missile, i.e. a missile without an explosive warhead, at the missile in its “boost phase.” Using already existing guidance systems and the pure kinetic energy that can be generated by even a small object moving at an extremely rapid velocity, the missile would destroy a North Korea missile almost as soon as it leaves the launch pad.

At a recent conference hosted by the Hudson Institute and General Atomics in San Diego, Caveny explained that most of the modular technological elements of such a system already exist and that an effective kinetic BPI system could be developed and deployed in two years, or within 12 months if the development of the system were put on an expedited war-prevention footing. Herman, in a series of compelling op-eds and position papers, has argued that such a system offers many benefits for addressing the North Korean crisis and multiple advantages over existing ground-based missile-defense systems that attempt to destroy missiles during their downward “terminal phase” of flight.

This approach would have several huge advantages. Here are three:

First, rising missiles in their boost phase are easiest to detect and destroy. During boost phase, missiles are moving at their slowest velocity, making them easier to shoot down. They also burn more fuel at this point in their trajectory, giving them their hottest infrared signature and making them easier to detect at long range. In addition, missiles in boost phase cannot employ evasive maneuvers or deploy multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles (or MIRVs) — unlike descending ICBMs in terminal phase.

Second, destroying missiles in the boost phase ensures that the debris from the kinetic collision and destruction of the warhead will fall safely over the Sea of Japan or even on North Korean territory, a poetically just way of enhancing deterrence and effectively boxing Kim Jong-un’s threat into a confined airspace.

Third, the BPI system currently envisioned by Herman and Caveny would represent only a near-horizon defensive weapon system — one that would not directly threaten the nuclear deterrent of the Chinese. Hosting a boost phase system on a UAV rather than in space would not, therefore, protect against ICBMs launched from countries with large land masses such as China and Russia. Nevertheless, in the immediate context of the North Korean crisis, such a system would have the advantage of representing a defensive response to a clear provocation. As such, it should not antagonize the Chinese, precisely because it does not compromise their own nuclear deterrence (or offensive capability). Even so, its deployment, like that of the THAAD system, will clearly not please the Chinese. But given that they cannot reasonably object to such a purely defensive system, especially in the current crisis, their displeasure could incentivize them to distance themselves from North Korea or even to pressure their client state to stop further testing of nuclear weapons.

That sounds like an intelligent design for dealing decisively with the single most alarming problem, that I’m aware of, currently facing our country. Read the rest here.

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force, Senior Airman Ian Dudley.