4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile - We Are The Mighty
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4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile

There’s been a lot of talk about North Korea’s nuclear missile potential, as recent tests have worried officials that Pyongyang could lob a nuke at the American homeland.


But the U.S. has some tools to shoot down a potential ICBM streaking toward CONUS. A lot of the anti-missile focus has centered on the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense system.

One battery of six launchers – each with eight missiles – is being deployed to South Korea to protect that ally from a North Korean missile that either goes astray or is deliberately fired at South Korea.

But are there other options? The good news is that not all of America’s missile-defense eggs are in the THAAD basket. Here are some of the other options out there.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
A Patriot Air and Missile Defense launcher fires an interceptor during a previous test at White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The latest configuration of the system, called PDB-8, has passed four flight tests and is now with the U.S. Army for a final evaluation. | Raytheon

1. MIM-104 Patriot – including Patriot PAC-3

This system has been doing the anti-missile thing since Operation Desert Storm.

Batteries in Saudi Arabia and Israel intercepted numerous versions of the SS-1 Scud fired by Saddam Hussein’s regime. An official DOD report from 1996 noted an 80 percent success rate in Saudi Arabia and a 50 percent success rate in Israel using the MIM-104C versions. Designation-Systems.net notes that the MIM-104E version has been in service since 2002, while the PAC-3 version came into service in 2003.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
Japan Flight Test Mission 1, marked the first time that an Allied Navy ship has successfully intercepted a ballistic missile target with the sea-based midcourse engagement capability provided by Aegis Ballistic Missile Defense. The JFTM-1 test event verified the new engagement capability of the Aegis BMD configuration of the recently upgraded Japanese destroyer, JS KONGO (DDG-173).

2. RIM-161 Standard Missile SM-3

The Navy’s SM-3 system is probably one of the most reliable missile killers in the inventory. According to a Missile Defense Agency fact sheet, the SM-3 has hit its target in 27 out of 34 tests. That is a 79.4 percent success rate.

Furthermore, this system has one advantage over THAAD and Patriot: Being ship-based, it can be moved to a more ideal intercept position. The system is also very capable – Designation-Systems.net credits the RIM-161A missile with a range of over 270 nautical miles – and the RIM-161D is being tested now.

The system forms the basis of “Aegis Ashore.”

According to the Missile Defense Agency website, Aegis Ashore is being deployed in Romania and Poland. With the proven Aegis system, it would not be surprising to see more Aegis Ashore complexes built.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
As part of a joint Missile Defense Agency/U.S. Navy missile defense test, an AQM-37C cruise missile target was launched from an aircraft July 31 west of Kauai, Hawaii. The USS John Paul Jones, positioned west of Hawaii, detected, tracked and launched a SM-6 Dual I missile, resulting in a third successful target intercept This was the third event in a series of joint Missile Defense Agency/U.S. Navy missile defense tests.

3. RIM-66 SM-2 and RIM-174 SM-6 Standard Missiles

These missiles, while primarily intended to kill aircraft, have gone six-for-six in tests anti-missile tests, according to the Missile Defense Agency. While not as capable as the SM-3, they can still take out an incoming missile before it does damage.

Both systems, it should be noted, could also be used from Aegis Ashore systems — in essence, creating a very powerful air-defense network in addition to defending against ballistic missiles from North Korea.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
A Ground-Based Interceptor is transported to its silo. (Missile Defense Agency photo)

4. Ground-Based Interceptor

This system adds a way to thin out incoming missiles as well. According to the Missile Defense Agency, 30 of these missiles are deployed between Fort Greely in Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. A fact sheet from the Missile Defense Agency notes that the system’s shown a 52.97 percent success rate in 17 tests.

There are two problems with the GBI, of course: There are only 30 deployed, and none are on the East Coast.

The Missile Defense Agency website notes they are looking into new technologies, as well, especially for what they call Early Intercept.

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How the Civil War created the modern US economy

The Civil War was a pivotal moment in the history of the United States. The war was responsible for more American deaths than any other conflict, and it has played a continuous role in both the culture and economy of the US ever since.


During the course of the Civil War, the US national debt ballooned to 40 times its previous size. The cost of the war ushered in several new rounds of taxes to fund the war effort — changes that are still in full effect today.

The following graphic, from Norwich University’s Online Masters in Military History program, shows how the effects of the Civil War are still with the US today and how the war permanently changed the face of the US economy and federal spending.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Here’s who would win a Russian vs. Chinese tank battle

Russia and Communist China have worked together a lot since the fall of the Soviet Union. Back in the 1990s, Russians sold the Chinese a lot of military technology, including the Su-27/30/33 Flanker family of multi-role fighters and Sovremennyy-class guided missile destroyers.


This wasn’t the first instance of Eurasian collaboration — the Soviet Union and Communist China were close in the 1950s, when Russia shared a number of jet, tank, missile, and ship designs. The two countries had a falling out in the 1960s, which culminated in the 1969 Sino-Soviet border conflict. As a result, Communist China turned to the West for some military technology, including designs for the 105mm main gun used on the M60 Patton and on early versions of the M1 Abrams.  However, the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre quickly severed any Western connections, leading, eventually, to this latest round of acquisitions from Russia.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
The T-14 Armata, Russia’s latest tank. (Wikimedia Commons photo by Vitaly V. Kuzmin)

But what if Russia and China had another falling out? Nearly 50 years ago, the two nations came close to all-out war — it could happen again. Today, while Russia’s military power has faded due, primarily, to the fall of the Soviet Union and ongoing economic struggles, Communist China’s armed forces have risen to a qualitative near-parity.

If the two were to face off, much of the ground fighting would involve tanks like China’s Type 99 and the Russian T-14 Armata. The Type 99 is a version of the Russian T-72. It carries a 125mm main gun that not only fires conventional tank rounds, but also the AT-11 Sniper anti-tank missile. It has a crew of three, a top speed of 50 miles per hour, and can go 280 miles on a single tank of gas. The tank also has a 12.7mm heavy machine gun and a 7.62mm machine gun.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
This is probably China’s biggest advantage: A Russian T-14 Armata will face several Type 99s. (VOA photo)

The T-14 Armata packs a 125mm gun as well, but unlike in Chinese designs, it is in an unmanned turret. The Armata also has a crew of three, a 12.7mm machine gun, and a 7.62mm machine gun. It can reach speeds of up to 50 miles per hour and has an active protection system to defend against missiles and rockets.

Which country’s tanks would win this fight? It depends. Recently, Russia has been unable to field a force of its latest designs due to budget constraints. Communist China, on the other hand, has been thriving. In a one-on-one fight, the Russian Armata would have a technological edge, but tank warfare is rarely a one-on-one affair.

The Chinese Communists would simply overwhelm an Armata with sheer numbers.

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This is the most revered dagger in military history

In London’s Westminster Abby there is St. George’s Chapel, where on one of the chapel’s walls hangs the Commando Association Battle Honors flag that lists where the Commandos fought and died during World War II from 1940 to 1945.

Under the word COMMANDO in gold letters is a stylized portrayal of a singular knife – the Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife.

Soldiers throughout history have always carried blades as weapons and as tools. Yet, no other knife is more commonly associated with WW II elite forces or possesses more mystique than the Fairbairn-Sykes knife.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
An example of the Fairbairn-Sykes commando dagger. (Wikipedia photo)

Commonly referred to as the “F-S knife” or “F-S dagger,” it is still issued to British Royal Marine Commandos, the Malaysian Special Operations Force, Singapore Commandos and Greek Raiders. In addition, the image of the knife is part of the emblem of the United States Army Special Operations Command (Airborne) as well as the emblems of special forces units in Holland, Belgium and Australia.

Yet, it is a weapon born out the experience of dealing with 1930’s knife fights in Shanghai and developed by two men who had no scruples about dirty fighting. In fact, William Fairbairn and Eric Sykes taught an entire generation of warriors that one of the quickest, quietest and deadliest ways to kill Germans was cold steel thrust into Nazi vitals – preferably from behind.

“The Commando dagger would become a symbol not just to the men who were issued it, but also to British civilians at a time when Britain was on the back foot, and any deadly way to strike back at the Germans was considered a boost for morale,” wrote Leroy Thompson is his book Fairbairn-Sykes Commando Dagger.

Whether it was the Roman pugio (a short-bladed dagger that served as a legionnaire’s backup weapon), bowie knives wielded on both sides of the U.S. Civil War, or the “knuckle duster” trench knives of the Great War, soldiers have always carried blades for use in close-quarters fighting.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
…and doesn’t seem to be going away anytime soon (USMC photo by Cpl Jericho Crutcher)

However, from the late 19th century until World War II many European generals thought it was unseemly for soldiers to bring personal knives into combat. Some thought it would reduce reliance on the bayonet and diminish the fighting spirit of soldiers.

Other commanders deemed rough-and-tumble knife fighting downright “ungentlemanly” – there’s a reason why betrayal is often called a “stab in the back.” Killing face-to-face with the bayonet was considered the more honorable way to dispatch the enemy.

However, the beginning of World War II reinvigorated belief in the close-combat knife as an essential weapon.

Prime Minister Winston Churchill was less fussy about how British troops killed the soldiers of the Third Reich. He placed great stock in commando forces, covert operations, and what he called “ungentlemanly warfare.”

The newly created Special Operations Executive taught knife-fighting as part of agents’ training. So did the British Commandos and airborne forces.

That meant there was a demand for a specific kind of knife that would be used to quietly kill the enemy, preferably in a surprise attack.

“In close-quarters fighting there is no more deadly weapon than the knife,” Fairbairn wrote in his manual Get Tough! How to Win in Hand-to-Hand Fighting (1942). “An entirely unarmed man has no certain defense against it, and, further, merely the sudden flashing of a knife is frequently enough to strike fear into your opponent, causing him to lose confidence and surrender.”

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
Fairbairn wasn’t worried about making friends (Wikimedia Commons)

Fairbairn would have known: During his 20-year career with the Shanghai Municipal Police, he fought in hundreds of street fights against assailants armed with knives and daggers. His friend and colleague Sykes served on the same police force and faced the same adversaries in what was at the time one of the most dangerous cities in the world.

In 1941, both men collaborated on the knife’s original design. Although the knife went through several variations during the war, it remained a double-edged stiletto well-balanced like a good sword and suited to thrusting and cutting more than slashing an opponent.

The models made by high-quality cutlers were manufactured from carbon steel so they could be honed razor sharp.

David W. Decker, a U.S. Navy veteran, knife-fighting expert, and collector of F-S knives, said a man trained in the use of the Fairbairn-Sykes knife learned confidence and aggression. In the hands of a properly-trained individual, it is a fearsome weapon.

“The knife has tremendous capacity for penetration of an enemy’s clothing, web gear and person,” Decker said. “A vital part of the training was the instruction in hitting lethal targets on the human body. Many of these targets had to be reached through the rib cage, so the slender blade was most efficient. The approximately seven-inch blade is capable of reaching all vital organs. Fluid in the hands, the grip was designed like that of a fencing foil to enhance the maneuverability of the knife.”

Another advantage of the F-S dagger was its ease of carry, said Decker, whose website chronicles the development of the knife and has photographs of many examples.

Relatively lightweight compared to other combat knives of the time, it was easily concealed or secured in a battle dress cargo pocket. Some men carried them strapped to their legs, tucked behind their pistol holster, or in a boot.

The needle-nosed point and razor-like edges of the dagger sometimes caused problems, Decker said. For example, one British commando could not pull the dagger out of the body of a German sentry because the knife was stuck in his ribs.

“At least one knife-maker was quoted as saying he made knives for stabbing Germans, not peeling potatoes,” Decker said, indicating some manufacturers made F-S knives with smooth edges so a soldier could remove the blade more easily from the enemy’s body.

Despite differences in quality and manufacture, the F-S knife gained popularity with both British and American soldiers during the war.

Members of the U.S. Army Rangers and Marine Raiders carried versions of the knife. U.S. Army Gen. Robert T. Frederick, commander of the 1st Special Service Force known as The Devil’s Brigade, based his design for the V-42 stiletto issued to his troops on the F-S knife.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
U.S. Army photo

Today, the F-S knife remains an iconic symbol on both sides of the Atlantic of what it means to qualify as an elite soldier.

At Fort Benning, Georgia, there is the Ranger Memorial. Behind two stone pillars holding a stylized Ranger tab are two smaller pillars and a knife sculpted in stone – a Fairbairn-Sykes fighting knife.

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White House considering direct military action to counter North Korea

In a dramatic shift from traditional policy, an internal White House review on North Korea strategy revealed that the option to use military force or a regime change to curb the threat of North Korean nuclear weapons was on the table, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.


This review comes at the heels of a report claiming President Donald Trump believed the “greatest immediate threat” to the US was North Korea’s nuclear program.

Also read: Navy fleet commanders warn of potential fight in North Korea

Recent provocations from the Hermit Kingdom, including the ballistic missile launch in the Sea of Japan and the killing of Kim Jong Un’s estranged half-brother in Malaysia, may have provoked this shift in the policy that have many officials and US allies worried.

“North Korea just stated that it is in the final stages of developing a nuclear weapon capable of reaching parts of the U.S. It won’t happen!” Trump tweeted in January. Several weeks later, North Korea conducted its missile test.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
The test-fire of Pukguksong-2. This photo was released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency on February 13. | KCNA/Handout

Since then, Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland consulted with other officials to address North Korea’s fresh series of provocations. In the meeting, held about two weeks ago, the officials discussed the possibility of a plan “outside the mainstream,” The Journal reported.

According to The Journal, McFarland requested for all options to overhaul American policy toward North Korea — including for the US to recognize North Korea as a nuclear state and the possibility of a direct military conflict.

Related: Experts say missile defense alone won’t stop growing North Korea nuke threat

The proposals, which are being vetted before Trump’s review, would certainly be met with worry from China, a longtime ally of North Korea that recently responded with an export ban against North Korea’s coal industry. Additionally, many experts fear that a direct military conflict would spark all-out warfare, including artillery barrages directed at Seoul, South Korea’s capital.

Even more worrisome is the possibility for further North Korean provocations, which may influence the recent policy shift, as early as this month. As the US and its ally South Korea conduct “Foal Eagle” and “Key Resolve,” their annual military exercises that involve 17,000 US troops and Terminal High Altitude Air Defense systems, experts say provocations from North Korea will be likely.

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The story of the most important Cold War spy most people have never heard of

One of the most significant US intelligence operations in modern history took place in the heart of Soviet Moscow, during one of the most dangerous stretches of the Cold War.


From 1979 to 1985, a span that includes President Ronald Reagan’s “evil empire” speech, the 1983 US-Soviet war scare, the deaths of three Soviet General Secretaries, the shooting-down of KAL 007, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA was receiving high-value intelligence from a source deeply embedded in an important Soviet military laboratory.

Over a period of several years and 21 meetings with CIA case officers in Moscow, Adolf Tolkachev, an engineer overseeing a radar development lab at a Soviet state-run defense institute, passed the US information and schematics the revealed the next generation of Soviet radar systems.

Tolkachev struggled to convince the CIA he was trustwory: He spent two years attempting to contact US intelligence officers and diplomats, semi-randomly approaching cars with diplomatic license plates with a US embassy prefix.

When the CIA finally decided to trust him, Tolkachev transformed the US’s understanding of Soviet radar capabilities, something that informed the next decade of US military and strategic development.

Prior to his cooperation with the CIA, US intelligence didn’t know that Soviet fighters had “look-down, shoot-down” radars that could detect targets flying beneath the aircraft. Thanks to Tolkachev, the US could engineer its fighter aircraft — and its nuclear-capable cruise missiles — to take advantage of the latest improvements in Soviet detection and to exploit gaps in the enemy’s radar systems.

The Soviets had no idea that the US was so aware of the state of their technology. Tolkachev helped tip the US-Soviet military balance in Washington’s favor. He’s also part of the reason why, since the end of the Cold War, a Soviet-built plane has never shot down a US fighter aircraft in combat.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
Photo: U.S. Navy

Pulitzer Prize-winning author David E. Hoffman’s newly published book “The Billion Dollar Spy” is the definitive account of the Tolkachev operation. It’s an extraordinary glimpse into how espionage works in reality, evoking the complex relationship between case officers and their sources, as well as the extraordinary methods that CIA agents use to exchange information right under the enemy’s nose.

It’s also about how espionage can go wrong: In 1985, a disgruntled ex-CIA trainee named Edward Lee Howard defected to the Soviet Union after the agency fired him over a series of failed polygraph tests. Howard was supposed to serve as Tolkachev’s case officer. Instead, he handed him to the KGB.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
Adolf Tolkachev in KGB custody. Photo: CIA

Business Insider recently spoke with Hoffman, who won the 2010 Pulitzer Prize in general nonfiction for The Dead Hand, an acclaimed history of the final decade of the Cold War arms race.

Hoffman talked about some of the lessons of the Tolkachev case. Successful espionage, he said, is like a “moonshot,” an enormous effort that only works when cascades of unpredictable variables are meticulously kept in check.

And as Hoffman notes, his book is a unique glimpse into how such an incredibly complex undertaking unfolds on a day to day basis.

“You can read a lot of literature about espionage but rarely do you get to coast along on the granular details of a real operation,” Hoffman says, in reference to the over 900 CIA cables relating to the Tolkachev case that he was able to access. “That’s what I had.”

The archive, along with the scores of interviews Hoffman conducted in researching the book, yielded unexpected insights into the realities of spycraft: “I was really surprised by both the sort of quest for perfectionism” among the agents who handled the Tolkachev case, says Hoffman, “but also by the enormous number of things that can and did go wrong.”

The interview has been edited for clarity and length.

BI: Your book the story of a CIA triumph: They run this source in the heart of Moscow for 5 or 6 years and get this bonanza of intelligence. But it’s also a story of organizational failure — about how this asset was eventually betrayed from within the CIA’s own ranks.

Is there a message in these two interrelated stories about the nature of intelligence collection and the challenges that US intelligence agencies face?

David E. Hoffman: On the first point, I think the big message, which is still very valid today, is the absolutely irreplaceable value of human source intelligence.

We live in an era when people are romanced by technology, the CIA included. Between what you scoop up from people’s emails and what satellites can see and signals intelligence, there always seems to be a new technological way to get various kinds of intelligence.

But this book reminded me that there is one category of espionage that is irreplaceable, and that is looking a guy in the eye and finding out what the hell is going on that isn’t in the technology — that can’t be captured by satellites. Satellites cannot see into the minds of people. They can’t even see into a file cabinet.

Even in the cyber age, it seems to me that you still have to get that particular human source, that spy that will do what nobody else will do: to let you sort of bridge the air gap, plug in the USB thumb drive if that’s necessary, to tell you something that nobody has written down …

Tolkachev was that kind of human source, an absolutely sterling example of someone who could bring stuff that you couldn’t get any other way.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
Photo: Wikipedia/NVO

The second point is, you called it institutional dysfunction but I think there’s a larger factor here which is counterintelligence …

[Intelligence] cannot simply be a matter of collection. You also have to have defenses against being penetrated by the other guys.

We live in a world where the forces of offense and defense are in perpetual motion. Counterintelligence is part of that. And counterintelligence is what really failed here.

I think it was also institutional dysfunction in the way they treated Howard. That wasn’t a counterintelligence problem so much it was a sort of incompetence: They fired a guy, they said get lost, and he was vengeful.

But I also think that — maybe not particularly in this case but just generally — the CIA did not value counterintelligence highly enough for a long time. Really the events that followed Tolkachev — [Aldrich] Ames [see here], [Robert] Hanssen [see here], that whole period of the 1985-86 losses [see here] — were a failure of counterintelligence …

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
Aldrich Ames spied for the Russian for nine years before being arrested on February 24, 1994.

There were really some big vulnerabilities there. In the end Tolkachev was exposed and betrayed by a disgruntled, vengeful fired trainee. But there were other losses soon to follow that were caused by essentially not having strong enough counterintelligence in place.

BI: It’s interesting how much the success of the operation had to do with these agents understanding Tolkachev’s state of mind based on these very short meetings that would be spaced months and months apart.

And from that they would have to build out some kind of sense of who this guy was. From the looks of it they did so fairly successfully for awhile.

DEH: That’s my toughest question. Espionage at its real core is psychology. You’re a case officer, you’re running an agent — what is in the soul of that man? What’s in his heart, what motivates him?

These are all questions that you have to try to answer for headquarters but also for yourself, in trying to play on his desires and understand them. Sometimes it can be a real test of will as you saw in this particular narrative. This psychological business can be very difficult …

A couple of times early in the operation Tolkachev revealed his deep antipathy towards the Soviet system. He said I’m a dissident at heart, he describes how fed up he is with the way things were in the Soviet Union.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
Joseph Stalin. Photo: YouTube/ITN

He gives only a very very skimpy factual account of his wife’s parents travails, but I was able to research them in Moscow and discovered that his wife grew up without her parents. Her mother was executed and her father was imprisoned for many years during Stalin’s purges. And Tolkachev was bitter about that.

He also came of age in the time when [Nobel-prize winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn] and [Nobel Peace Prize-winning physicist and activist Andrei Sakharov] were also sort of coming of age as dissidents.

All of that rumbled around behind these impassive eyes. It’s not as if he handed over a book saying, I’m a dissident and here’s my complaint. Instead he handed over secret plans and said, I’m a dissident and I want to destroy the Soviet Union.

This psychological war and test of nerves of constantly trying to read a guy is really the most unpredictable and most difficult part of espionage. In this case, I’m not sure it was always successful.

The case officers did grasp that Tolkachev was determined. He expressed this sort of incredible determination, banging on the car doors and windows for 2 years to get noticed.

And when he’s working for the CIA he gives them his own espionage plan that takes years and multiple stages that he had mapped out. He’s a very, very determined guy. But what’s driving that isn’t always clear to the case officers.

BI: How does Tolkachev’s story fit in to the larger story of the end of the Cold War arms race?

I don’t think you could make the extravagant claim that he ended the Cold War or that he ended the arms race. But that’s not to minimize what Tolkachev did do. One of the things I discovered was how uncertain we were about Soviet air defenses in that period at the end of the Cold War …

There was always a funny thing going on with the Soviet Union. They had a lot of resources and were a very large country and the state and the military industrial complex was a big part of it. They always built a lot of hardware.

In fact they had a huge number of air-defense fighters and bases positioned all around their borders. [Air defense] wasn’t such a big deal for us but for them, the enemy was at their doorstop, right in Europe. They also had the world’s longest land borders. They had a lot to defend.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
Thanks to Tolkachev, the US knew all about the radar capabilities of the Soviet-built MiG-29, the advanced interceptor introduced in the mid-1980s. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Thanks to Tolkachev, the US knew all about the radar capabilities of the Soviet-built MiG-29, the advanced interceptor introduced in the mid-1980s.

The US saw all the deployments but there was also evidence that Soviet training was poor, that the personnel who manned all these things were not up to it, [and] that there was a goofy system where pilots were told exactly what to do by ground controllers and had very little autonomy.

The intelligence about whether the Soviets had look-down shoot-down radar was very uncertain. Some people said no, they don’t have it, some said yeah. And here’s were Tolkachev stepped into the breach.

Within a few years of his work, we knew exactly what they had and what they were working on. Tolkachev was also bringing us not only what ws happening now but what would be happening 10 years from now. A

nd if you think about it in real time, if you were in the Air Force and thinking about how you were going to deal with Soviet air defenses, getting a glimpse of their research and development 10 years ahead was invaluable …

There was also a fine line between [air defenses] and the nuclear issue. There were two aspects to strategic nuclear weapons that depended on air defenses and the kind of stuff Tolkachev brought us.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
A Tomahawk cruise missile launches from the stern vertical launch system of the USS Shiloh (CG 67) to attack selected air defense targets south of the 33rd parallel in Iraq on on Sept. 3, 1996, as part of Operation Desert Strike.

One was obviously bombers. In the early days of the Cold War [the US had] a high altitude strategy. B-52s would fly at a very high altitude and bomb from 50,000 or so feet.

Then we made a switch and we decided that the Soviets’ real vulnerability was at low altitudes. And it’s true. They did not have good radars at low altitude …

The strategic cruise missile scared the living daylights out of the Kremlin, because they knew they could fly right under their radars.

BI: Much of this book consists of reconstructions of scenes that were top-secret for many years but that you put together through researching the cable traffic and conducting interviews.

What do you see as the biggest challenge of writing about these dark spaces in American national security?

There are all kinds of missing jigsaw pieces in these narratives that we think we know, say, about terrorism, or about WMD. One of the things you find out if you’re one of those people who go with a pick and shovel at history and try to unearth rocks and tell stories is that pieces are missing — tiny little pieces, and also important things.

In this story there were a bunch of gaps that I had to report. I had enough to tell the story, but you never feel at the end that you know the whole story …

I still think there are big parts of what Tolkachev meant that are still in use and that are legitimately still classified. Even though this case is three decades old, it’s quite likely that some of that stuff is still considered pretty valuable intelligence.

More from Business Insider:

This article originally appeared at Business Insider Defense. Copyright 2015. Follow BI Defense on Twitter.

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These full-bird colonels are amped about vertical lift aircraft

The Army, the Marine Corps, and the Special Operations Command are working together in an ambitious drive to develop leap-ahead capabilities for future vertical lift aircraft that will provide greater range, speed, lethality, and survivability, but also have the maximum degree of commonality in platforms and systems to reduce cost and enhance sustainability.


4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
A USMC V-22 Osprey lands aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Wasp (LHD 1). (Photo: U.S. Navy)

The three colonels managing that complex effort say they believe they can do a better job of maximizing commonality and limiting cost than the tri-service F-35, or Joint Strike Fighter, program that continues to struggle with technology challenges, cost growth, and fractured schedules.

Appearing at a Center for Strategic and International Studies’ forum on future vertical lift (FVL) on Dec. 9, the three officers stated slightly different platform requirements for the future aircraft.

The Army and SOCOM are primarily interested in filling air lift and air assault missions currently performed by the different variants of the H-60 Black Hawks, according to Col. Erskine Bentley, the future vertical lift program manager at Army Training and Doctrine Command, and Army Col. David Phillips, program executive for rotary wing requirements at SOCOM.

Bentley described the Army’s focus as “primarily the utility mission,” which includes aerial medical evacuation and air assault, or “the ability to assault light forces and their equipment.”

SOCOM’s air lift missions tend to be long-range covert insertion and extraction of special operations units.

Marine Col. John Barranco, the rotary requirements branch head, expressed a need for both troop transport and attack capabilities as successors to the Corps’ current UH-1Y Venom and AH-1Z Viper helicopters. That did not include replacing the tilt-rotor MV-22 Ospreys, which already has speed and range far greater than those two.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
U.S. Marine Corps UH-1Y Venom flies during an exercise. (Photo: U.S. Marine Corps)

But all three emphasized the primary focus of their FVL effort was more speed, range, power, and survivability than the current generation of helicopters. They emphasized that those enhanced capabilities were needed to overcome the emerging anti-access, area-denial defensive capabilities being fielded by “near-peer competitors,” which usually refers to Russia and China.

Bentley said greater “reach, speed, and power” would enable the Army to “conduct strategic deployment” from outside the combat theater, and immediately go into tactical operations on arrival.

Greater speed and reach, combined with additional protective systems, enhances survivability and “coupled with light-weight sensor systems, increases the lethality of Army aviation,” he said.

Barranco, noted that the Marines are fielding the “fifth generation” F-35B strike fighter, while their vertical lift aircraft, with the exception of the Osprey, are little better than the helicopters used in Vietnam. But, due to “the threat picture, the anti-access, area-denial, from a variety of near peer competitors,” he said, “there is a need across the joint force to leverage technology to develop a new, more capable aircraft.”

Phillips said the improved capabilities, and the open architecture systems were essential to “stay ahead of the environment,” which was his term for the threat.

The CSIS moderator, Andrew Hunter, challenged the officers on how they could achieve the high commonality for their different missions in light of the record of the Joint Strike Fighter program, which has been “challenged” and has had “less commonality than expected.”

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
The F-35 was developed under a unique joint program office, while the FVL effort is under the established Army program office. (Photo by Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen. (Cropped))

All three emphasized the time they have spent on confirming the key common requirements. Bentley said within each of those requirements was “trade space” that would allow each service to take from one capability to enhance another.

Barranco agreed, saying “every requirement is in a range of capabilitie,” so they could trade some speed or range for more troops. The Marine also stressed how they all needed the high commonality to enable them to get what they need within “the fiscally constrained environment,” which he predicted would not change.

In addition to reducing the procurement costs, commonality also would enhance sustainability by allowing common supply of spare parts and even cross-service maintenance, they said.

Although the individual platforms may be different, Barranco cited the example of the Marines’ new H-1s, which have 85 percent commonality in engine and mission systems, despite the significant difference in airframe and missions. 

Commonality also would be easier with open architecture in systems that would make it easier and cheaper to modify some performances, they said.

As the program lead, Bentley said the goal was to develop and test prototype aircraft in the 2020s and begin full rate production in the 2030s, when current vertical lift aircraft were due to retire.

MIGHTY TRENDING

Was it actually the Marine Corps that helped delay the Army’s 7.62 battle rifle program?

The commander of Program Executive Soldier today refuted recent media reports that the Army’s senior leadership has killed a requirement to field a new 7.62mm Interim Service Combat Rifle capable of defeating enemy body armor.


“It is not dead. The decision has not been made,” Brig. Gen. Brian Cummings (P) told Military.com.

Cummings’s comments come a day after The FirearmBlog reported that the Interim Service Combat Rifle competition, which was launched in early August, has been cancelled.

Despite Cummings insistence, a source told Military.com that Army Chief of Staff Gen. Mark Milley has decided to cancel requirement, and ultimately the competition, but has not made yet made it official yet.

The Army identified a potential gap in the capability of ground forces and infantry to penetrate body armor using existing 7.62mm ammunition, according to the Aug. 4 solicitation.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
A Special Forces soldier takes a rest during a patrol in Afghanistan. The Army is considering outfitting its front-line troops with a 7.62 battle rifle like this Mk17 SCAR-H. (Photo from US Army Special Operations Command)

The opening of the competition came just over two months after Milley revealed to Congress that the M4 Carbine’s M855A1 Enhanced Performance Round cannot penetrate modern enemy body armor plates similar to the U.S. military-issue rifle plates such as the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Insert, or ESAPI.

Milley told lawmakers in late May that the Army does not believe that every soldier needs a 7.62mm rifle. These weapons would be reserved for the Army’s most rapid-deployable infantry units.

The Army intended to purchase up to 50,000 new 7.62mm rifles to meet the requirement, according to the solicitation.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
A soldier lines up a target during the final day of M110 Semi-Automatic Sniper System (SASS) qualifications at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson’s Grezelka Range, July 10, 2013. (U.S. Air Force photo/Justin Connaher)

It’s still unclear what changed; why the Army leadership decided to kill the effort.

It might have something to do with the U.S. Marine Corps’ lack of interest in the requirement and that it has decided to go in the opposite direction. In August, the Corps announced its plans to purchase more than 50,000 additional M27 Infantry Automatic Rifles (IARs), which are chambered for 5.56mm.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Virgin Orbit executes successful LauncherOne rocket test drop

Sir Richard Branson’s company, Virgin Orbit, conducted a successful test drop of an unpowered LauncherOne rocket on July 10, 2019, over California’s Mojave Desert near the Mojave Air & Space Port. The test is the latest step in Virgin Orbit’s goal to offer an affordable, small payload orbital launch capability to both commercial and government contract customers.

The unpowered air-launch drop test was the last major step toward the next phase of testing for LauncherOne, a future powered flight following a drop from the Boeing 747-400 named “cosmic Girl”. July 10, 2019’s test drop was initiated from an altitude of 35,000 feet using an unpowered LauncherOne vehicle filled with antifreeze and water as ballast to simulate a payload. Following the test drop the LauncherOne test vehicle fell seven miles to earth and its destruction following impact with the desert.


4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile

The LauncherOne test vehicle under the wing of the drop aircraft moments before July 10, 2019’s successful test drop.

(Virgin Orbit)

The Boeing 747-400 drop-test mothership aircraft was flown by noted test pilot and Air Force Academy graduate Kelly Latimer, a combat pilot and also a graduate of the USAF Test Pilot School. Latimer is a veteran of the Virgin Galactic program and has also flown the WhiteKnightTwo specialty built aerial launch vehicle.

Virgin Orbit LauncherOne Drop Test

www.youtube.com

In a blog post on VirginOrbit.com published July 9, 2019, the company said, “We’ll be monitoring and rehearsing a million things, but this test is really all about those few seconds just after release, as we ensure the rocket and aircraft separate cleanly and observe how the rocket free-falls through the air.”

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile

The course flown by the Boeing 747-400 drop aircraft for July 10, 2019’s successful test drop. The aircraft could be tracked on Flightradar24.com.

(Flightradar24.com via Virgin Orbit Twitter)

The Virgin Orbit LauncherOne project is one of many recent commercial space launch projects, not all of which have succeeded. Following the dramatic first flight of late billionaire Paul Allen’s Stratolaunch aircraft on April 19, 2019, the Reuters News agency ran a story on May 31, 2019, saying the Stratolaunch flight program would be shut down until a buyer for the ambitious project came forward. A June 14, 2019 report on CNBC.com by reporter Michael Sheetz said, “Holding company Vulcan is seeking to sell Stratolaunch at 0 million, people familiar with the matter tell CNBC.”
Branson’s Virgin Orbit LauncherOne may be a more practical approach to short lead-time, low cost orbital launches. LauncherOne is claimed to have a payload capacity of 300 kilograms (660 lbs.), although Space.com reports the payloads can be up to “1,100 lbs. (500 kilograms)”. Extremely short launch lead times can be only 24 hours from mission preparation to orbit, a feature that may make this launch technology attractive to military customers.

Branson’s greatest achievement with LauncherOne may be even more practical; cost. Boosting a payload into orbit using Virgin Orbit and LauncherOne may cost as little as M USD per mission. This compares to M USD to launch a larger 50,000 lb. payload into orbit using Elon Musk’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. On a pound-per-dollar basis, SpaceX’s Falcon 9 is less expensive, but LauncherOne can specialize in smaller, shorter lead-time orbital payloads.

Virgin Orbit has not said when the next phase of testing, to include launching a powered LauncherOne into orbit from the 747-400 launch plane, will take place, but reports suggest it will happen soon. Virgin Orbit has confirmed the operational rocket for the first powered air launch has “already undergone extensive testing”.

This article originally appeared on The Aviationist. Follow @theaviationist on Twitter.

Articles

A war with China in 2025 would be bloody and unwinnable

A top defense strategy think tank recently released a report hat looks at the implications of a possible war between the U.S. and China. The news is almost universally bad, but the assessment of a full-scale war between the U.S. and China in 2025 paints a dire picture of the aftermath of a conflict between the world’s two biggest superpowers.


While a war today would be costly for the U.S., China’s increasing anti-access, area denial arsenal as well as its growing carrier capability and aircraft strength could make it impossible for the U.S. to establish military dominance and achieve a decisive victory in 2025, the report by the RAND Corporation says.

“Premeditated war between the United States and China is very unlikely, but the danger that a mishandled crisis could trigger hostilities cannot be ignored,” RAND says. “Technological advances in the ability to target opposing forces are creating conditions of conventional counterforce, whereby each side has the means to strike and degrade the other’s forces and, therefore, an incentive to do so promptly, if not first.”

Instead, the two sides would fight until its home populations got fed up and demanded an end to hostilities, something that may not happen until the body counts get too high to stomach.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
Soldiers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army 1st Amphibious Mechanized Infantry Division prepare to provide Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen with a demonstration of their capabilities during a visit to the unit in China on July 12, 2011. (Photo: US Navy Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

RAND declined to state a number of expected casualties in any potential war, but it estimated the loss of multiple carriers and other capital platforms for each side. Nimitz-class carriers carry approximately 6,000 sailors and Marines on a cruise. The loss of a single ship would represent a greater loss of life and combat power than all losses in the Iraq War.

The study predicts a stunning display of technological might on both sides, which isn’t surprising considering what each country has in the field and in the works. The paper doesn’t name specific weapon systems, but it predicts that fifth-generation fighters will be able to shoot down fourth-generation fighters with near impunity.

The U.S. recently fielded its second fifth-generation fighter, the F-35 Lightning II. America’s other advanced fighter, the F-22 Raptor, has been in service since 2005. China is developing four fifth-generation fighters — the J-20; the J-32; the J-23; and the J-25.

The J-20 and J-32 will likely be in the field in 2025 and would potentially rival America’s fighters.

By 2025, China could have two more aircraft carriers for a total of three. It currently owns one functional carrier purchased from Russia and is manufacturing a second.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
The Navy’s Pre-Commissioning Unit Gerald R. Ford is moved from one shipyard to another in 2013. When launched, the Ford-class carriers will be the largest aircraft carriers in history. (Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Aidan P. Campbell)

Despite America’s greater numbers of both fifth-generation fighters and total aircraft carriers, China’s growing missile arsenal would force America to act cautiously or risk unsustainable losses, RAND argues.

Outside of the conventional war, cyber attacks, anti-satellite warfare, and trade disruptions would hurt both countries.

Both belligerents have anti-satellite weapons that are nearly invulnerable to attack, meaning that both countries will be able to destroy a substantial portion of each other’s satellites. The destruction of the American satellite constellation would be especially problematic for the rest of the world since nearly all GPS units connect to American satellites.

Cyber attacks would cripple vulnerable grids on both sides of the Pacific, likely including many of the computer servers that maintain public utilities and crucial services like hospitals.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
Photo: Airliners.net CC BY-SA 4.0

Trade disruptions would damage both countries, but China would be affected to a much greater extent, RAND says.

A lot of American commerce passes through the Pacific, but China does a whopping 95 percent of its trade there and is more reliant on trade than the U.S. For China, any large Pacific conflict would be very expensive at home.

While it’s very unlikely that China could win a war with the U.S., RAND says the fighting would be so bloody and costly for both sides that even average Americans would suffer greatly. Service members and their families would have it the worst.

“By 2025, U.S. losses could range from significant to heavy; Chinese losses, while still very heavy, could be somewhat less than in 2015, owing to increased degradation of U.S. strike capabilities,” RAND says. “China’s [anti-access weapons] will make it increasingly difficult for the U.S. to gain military-operational dominance and victory, even in a long war.”

There are two pieces of good news. First, leaders on both sides are hesitant to go to war. Even better, RAND’s assessment says that neither country is likely to risk nuclear retaliation by firing first, so the war would likely remain a conventional affair.

The bad news is that increasing tension could trigger an accidental war despite political leaders best intentions. RAND recommends that leaders set clear limits on military actions in the Pacific and establish open lines of dialogue.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
The Chinese Navy frigate Hengshui fires its main gun at a towed target during Rim of the Pacific 2016. (Photo: Chinese Navy Senior Capt. Liu Wenping)

The American and Chinese military do participate in some exercises together. The Chinese hospital ship Peace Ark and the Chinese frigate Hengshui took part in the Rim of the Pacific exercise, but continued Chinese espionage against America and reported cyber attacks prevent a happy relationship.

Hopefully the U.S. and China can come to friendly terms because a war tomorrow would be catastrophic and a war in 10 years could be crippling for everyone involved.

The full report from RAND is available as a PDF for free here. It can also be purchased as a paperback. A Q A with the lead study author is available here.

MIGHTY CULTURE

How the US maintains strategic advantage in the Arctic

In 1935, Billy Mitchell, former U.S. Army brigadier general and airpower advocate, testified before Congress that Alaska was the most strategic place in the world. From there, he said, U.S. Army aircraft could reach any capital in the northern hemisphere within nine hours.

Much of that flight time was over unoccupied polar ice, as only the most intrepid of explorers ventured high above the Arctic Circle.

As technology improved, the coming decades led to increased civilian and military activity over, under and on the Arctic ice sheet.

Today, however, it is environmental changes that are leading to increased activity above the Arctic Circle.


Citing a National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Arctic Report Card, a Department of Defense report to Congress in June, 2019, stated, “The Arctic’s environment continues to change, including diminished sea ice coverage, declining snow cover and melting ice sheets. Temperatures across the Arctic region are increasing more than twice as fast as the global average…”

The result has been the opening of sea lanes year-round, increasing both Russian and Chinese civilian and military presence near U.S. borders and the borders of its allies.

As an Arctic presence enables global reach for whomever has this strategic access, Russia has been reopening, fortifying and building new military bases in the region.

While Russia’s presence in the region has been increasing, melting permafrost beneath some of the U.S. Air Force’s most remote satellite tracking and communications facilities threatens its capability to observe and respond to threats.

The accompanying video explores how the Air Force is addressing the challenge of maintaining a strategic advantage in the Arctic, as this northernmost arena for the great power competition becomes more and more accessible.

This article originally appeared on Airman Magazine. Follow @AirmanMagazine on Twitter.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

Watch a Coast Guardsman jump onto a narco-sub full of cocaine

The crew of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Munro not only earned their pay recently but they also once again proved themselves worthy of their boat’s namesake. After struggling to catch up to a narco-sub filled with 17,000 pounds of cocaine, the crew hopped aboard the partially-submerged craft, opened the hatch, and apprehended the crew as the boats all sped along at the water line.


If for some reason you didn’t actually think the Coast Guard was cool, just watch this Coastie bang on a cartel submarine like they personally violated his property.

MIGHTY TACTICAL

How to open your beer like a breaching team

‘Tis the season for the giving of gifts. ‘Tis also the season of FOMUG (Fear Of Messed Up Gifting). We get it. It’s hard out there for an elf. Team WATM would like to offer you some guidance.


For the vet who needs his stocking stuffed:

~ .50 cal bottle openers to start the round (and the reminiscing) off right ~

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
Your beer doesn’t stand a chance.

Sometimes getting things rolling is the easy part. Like many entrepreneurs with a good idea, former SEAL Eli Crane found out that success, especially when it comes in a rush, can be a much more difficult hurdle to clear.

In Nov. 2014, Crane, along with his wife and co-founder, Jen, appeared on ABC’s Shark Tank to pitch for investment in their boot-strapped company, Bottle Breacher. They went into it boasting a homemade (but sturdy) garage manufacturing set-up and $500k in sales of their flagship product, a bottle opener fashioned from recycled, authentic decommissioned .50 caliber bullet shells.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile
Sound business practice: give the investor a good photo op.

Impressed by their story (and all a’flutter with the patriotic warm’n’fuzzies), Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary went halvsies on a $150k capital investment for 10% equity each. The Cranes had aced the most public version of an entrepreneurial rite of passage. Happy days all the way to the bank, right?

Well, yeah, but also some rough weeks ahead as the instant publicity they received from their appearance flooded their fulfillment queue with some 20,000 orders, drastically overmatching their output capacity. Bottle Breacher was in for a brutal bout of growing pains.

Happily, the same grit that got Crane through BUD/S on his second try – along with the smarts that led him to switch to business after 5 overseas deployments – came together in a massive Bottle Breacher systems overhaul. In just over a month, the Cranes identified and busted through their production bottleneck (yeah, sorry) and caught up on all their outstanding orders.

And that was good news because Crane is a genius at product iteration and the production backlog had also made it impossible for him to release a bunch of his newest designs. These days, Bottle Breacher sells Freedom Frags, Breacher BBQ Tools, Wine Bottle Breachers, Whiskey Bullets and much, much more in their quest to be the #1 supplier of patriotic party ammunition to a grateful and thirsty nation.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile

The 2017 We Are The Mighty Holiday Gift Guide is sponsored by Propper, a tactical apparel and gear company dedicated to equipping those who commit their lives to serving others. All views are our own.

Speaking of Propper, they’re giving away twelve tactical packs filled with gear from our Holiday Gift Guide. Click this link to enter.

4 other ways the US could shoot down a North Korean ballistic missile

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