Friday, June 19, 2009
When North Korea threatened to launch a ballistic missile in March, the Pentagon responded cooly. No effort would be made to shoot down the test missile, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said. The experimental, floating SBX missile-defense radar, would stay in dry-dock. This was a test, not an imminent attack, after all; and it would’ve cost as much as $100 million to move the thing into place.
How times have changed. First came the attempted launch in April. Then, last month, Pyongyang detonated a test nuclear device, which may or may not have worked as planned. Now the Norks are threatening to launch another Taepodong-2 missile, with a 4,000-mile range, towards Hawaii — and Gates is pulling out all the stops, to prepare for an intercept.
That means sending Army Terminal High-Altitude Air Defense missile systems, still in development, to the islands, and deploying the SBX radar. Joint Chiefs vice chairman General James Cartwright said he was “90-plus percent” sure the U.S. could intercept a Nork missile, in the unlikely event it overflew U.S. territory.
THAAD, you might recall, had a weak start in the 1990s, when it failed to hit targets in six test intercepts, in a row. A redesign improved the system considerably: a second round of test intercepts since 2005 scored five for five. For all its apparent success, THAAD is still unproven, in combat. Critics say that a real warhead would be faster, and surrounded by sensor-confusing debris, unlike the relatively slow, and clean, test targets....(Remainder.)